COMING back after the album that made you an overnight sensation to a mainstream who previously never knew your name always has a certain danger about it.
Winning two Grammy awards, including Best Album in 2011 for the still-magnificent The Suburbs, touring the world with one of the best shows of the last five years and gathering new fans by the hundreds of thousands in the process, there has been nothing but utter fascination surrounding where Arcade Fire would go next.
In what has been a gradually-building hype avalanche over the release of Reflektor – from random, chalk-drawn symbols in cities all over the world to a post-Saturday Night Live half-hour special containing three new songs, some interesting cameos and some “comedy” skits – the dam broke last week when the album leaked, possibly courtesy of a record shop in Kilkenny who put the record on their shelves a day early.
In any event, the “leak”, such as it was, precipitated the bursting of the dam and the release to YouTube of an 85-minute lyric video of the entire record, before streams were released for everyone to hear.
Taken away from the internet context, and listened to intently – as all records should be – the important questions appear. Is it the deserved follow-up to three of the best alt-rock records of the last decade? Is it another example of the too-long double-album syndrome? Is it a triumph of hype over substance?
The answers to those questions are – Possibly, definitely and certainly not.
Reflektor is possibly the only way that Arcade Fire could have developed without repeating themselves. Bringing in James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem was a flag that this might be an entirely new direction, and the lead single, with its dance rhythyms and David Bowie vocal was an outline, but not a complete picture, of how the album would develop.
There is a new, looser, groovier feel to the music on offer here, bringing to mind Remain In Light era Talking Heads, not the out-and-out disco that Reflektor (the single) and Murphy’s presence might have suggested would be prevalent. Here Comes The Nighttime’s frenetic Haitian drum patterns slacken off to a slow, almost dub pace and an irresistable melody hook that you’ll be whistling for weeks.
Normal Person gives us a rockier, more familiar Fire, with Bowie’s presence felt in the saxophone lines and guitar fills around the chorus, and the glam rock stomp of Joan Of Arc is far, far away from the dance-based direction people were clearly expecting.
The Beatles-y Awful Sound and slow-electro thrum of Porno are utterly unexpected, and all the more welcome for it.
Reflektor is, however, too long – some judicious pruning would bring the record in at around the 55-minute mark, leaving some quirky offcuts for b-sides that didn’t need to make the final cut – Flashbulb Eyes and You Should Know standing out for the skip button.
That is not to say that the record is in any way a disappoinment. It’s a document of a band whose particular cachet and recorded output to date give them the space to improvise and experiment with their sound and style.
There is an ocean of sound here to float in and become part of your life by osmosis, and it will be fascinating to see how the band bring the record to life alongside their undoubted canon of classics next month as they play small stages across Europe.