Arcade Fire: Reflektor (Merge)
I’ve just started reading Alain de Botton’s book ‘Art as Therapy’. In the book Botton, and John Armstrong, attempt to provide practical guidelines within which art can be utilised as cathartic and engaging on a personal level. We tend to write more about music in terms of a grander cultural landscape, one that positions musicians and their records as newsmakers and events. We’re getting really good at statements and reactions, but perhaps losing touch a little with the capacity of an album to communicate personally.
Botton’s book centres its point around visual art, yet this referential framework applies exactly to Reflektor; a grand panorama, translating love and loss through both light and shade. The big news about this album, on its release, was the revelation of a funked up, party time Arcade Fire. A version of the band that now wore carnival masks and white suits whilst playing steamy Haitian disco. The aesthetic was a great vibe and I’m not for a moment arguing it took away from the album, but it did become shorthand for discussing it - ‘Reflektor’, the Arcade Fire disco album. Whilst the statement is not untrue as such, it completely robs the album of its true victories.
The album has disco elements, most notably on ‘Here Comes the Night Time’ and the title track ‘Reflektor’ - but can the same be said for the rest of the record? It’s a piece of such huge concepts that an attempt to convert its intentions into ‘Arcade Fire having fun!’ or ‘Arcade Fire’s Achtung Baby’ make easy headlines but confusing listening. Let’s take the restored classicalism of Eurydice and Orpheus as an example. Arcade Fire weave their mythos through lyrics with such pertinent internal reflexivity, that the figures of the cover become a canvas for anyone who has longed for and lost someone.
At thirteen tracks long it is capable of providing groove with pathos, the two discs tracking a multitude of genre, whilst providing similar scope in reflection. This is most perfectly assembled in ‘Afterlife’, a genuinely breathtaking piece of music that chatters and leaps as much as it sways and swoons. It centres around an expansive melody that could be played at a party just as much as it could a funeral.
I got into a semi-intense debate about Arcade Fire this summer, with someone who sensibly argued that their place in music history may be corroded over time, as they are retreading the same territory as U2 or Neil Young before them - a chapter of musical legacy reserved to the 20th century. In terms of Arcade Fire as a stadium rock band I can’t provide an argument much better than ‘yeah but I like Arcade Fire’. Yet why does that matter? The success of Reflektor is the antithesis of its scale. It wins as a testament to human interaction and conversation; screaming, shouting and working it out. It’s legacy should not be measured in sales, tours or comparisons to U2. Rather it should be measured reflectively, personally and independently. This is not art as social commentary, this is art as therapy.