Arcade Fire wouldn’t be the first band to feel the push-pull of art and entertainment, but it’s a tension the Montreal giants tackle with furious ambition on their double, fourth album.
When singer Win Butler nudged Bono off-stage on their Saturday Night Live special, the gag was clear: we’ll take the stadiums now, thanks. But Reflektor doesn’t co-opt U2’s catch-all sentiments. Instead, it goes for grand-scale broke, often cacophonously, but in a manner that preserves its makers’ mob-handed brio, deconstructs it, questions itself and shifts gears with thrilling restlessness.
LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy’s role as co-producer stokes expectations of existential-disco work-outs, but they’re mostly answered only by “Reflektor” and “We Exist”, where a warm “Black is Black” groove and chilly lyrics chafe: it’s froideur on the dance floor. Elsewhere, “Flashbulb Eyes” stages a twisted-ragga tussle between mystique and fame’s lure. “Here Comes the Night Time” upholds this super-sized band’s uncanny fluency, lurching from carnival-esque flurries to a Caribbean lilt like a bucking, biting Talking Heads.
Making a double album sounds lofty, but disc two earns its existence by substituting explorations for disc one’s explosions. It isn’t perfect – “Porno” drags, “Supersymmetry” dissipates – but the bits that work, thrill: “After Life” builds to a glorious peak and “It’s Never Over” spikes festival-ready consolatory clichés with bracingly curt truths. Big only because Arcade Fire think big, Reflektor stretches stadium rock’s reach in the acts of self-reinvention and revitalisation. Now that’s entertainment.