At the start of “Normal Person,” Win Butler asks, “Do you like rock ‘n’ roll music? Cause I don’t know if I do.”
He poses the question over a vampy, piano-driven rhythm that eventually explodes into a chorus driven by a screechy guitar. The song is one of Reflektor‘s best and maybe the rocking-est thing on the 70-minute spectacular. It’s five tracks in and you already know the question is on Butler’s mind.
Reflektor really is hard to put a label on. “Art rock” would be simple enough, but even though there are audible influences, this sounds like a band striving to break down influences and use the pieces to make something better. They succeed at nearly every turn, and there are plenty of hard turns. Songs swerve with little to no warning. “Here Comes the Night Time” gives a little rev of the engine as it shifts from slow and sultry to a celebratory rhythm. Then it unexpectedly drops right back down. It all contributes to the sense that Reflektor is always on the verge of reeling out of control while the band members grin wildly.
But Arcade Fire keeps it under control, because for all their craziness, they’re just as thoughtful. Reflektor is a Proper Album with little connecting bits of dialogue or even applause, and a pretty seamless structure designed for two discs. It’s not that the music can’t fit on one, it’s the way they’ve designed it. “Here Comes the Night Time II” opens the second half in a way that feels more like transitional material than a song. In fact, disc two feels a lot calmer overall, giving some impressive production workroom shine. It’s also where we get some of the album’s weaker moments though — mainly the too-slick “Porno.”
Maybe the most thrilling thing about Reflektor are the rhythms (the title track prepared us for that). Bass lines are heavier, grooves are deeper and disco lives. James Murphy is surely behind this, giving us a reason to dance to some Arcade Fire rather than just let the grandiose choruses wash over us.
And, yeah, Reflektor has that epic, Important Music thing going on. It’s going to put some people off the same as it did on past records, but you can’t say Arcade Fire doesn’t live up to the grandeur.