Thoughts on new Arcade Fire

A new Arcade Fire release is a bona fide cultural event, and the Montreal band’s fourth album, Reflektor, has been even more anticipated by music geeks worldwide because of the clear “departure album” implications of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy producing. Only one song has been released thus far, the title track (which features David Bowie on backup vocals), but it is already a major musical statement.

Come to think of it, what struck me most about the song “Reflektor” and its corresponding video (which features Arcade Fire performing in giant papier mache masks made to resemble each band member) was that it is as much an artistic statement as a musical statement. Sure, most immediately obvious is the mirror-ball danceability inherent in every nook and cranny of Arcade Fire’s new James Murphified sound. But just as obvious is that the Grammy-winning Canadian group is this generation’s Talking Heads, in that art and music are equally important in everything Arcade Fire does.

A sense of music history is also obviously present in nearly everything Arcade Fire does, and that’s a big reason members of the band have been invited to perform with classic-rock heavies like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, et al. Arcade Fire, with its anthemic poetry and cutting suburban commentary, is the most important band of our time – in my eyes moreso than Radiohead if only because of the less abstract aforementioned constant bursts of enlightening/world-weary suburban commentary and the mere fact that one does not need a decoder ring to understand the band’s lyrics. But on the music history tip, take the “Reflektor” video:

1. the ubiquitous mirror ball twirling in the video, sometimes suspended in mid-air, hints not only at LCD Soundsystem’s revival-esque concerts but also the departure the band is currently taking, which is comparable to Bowie’s famous tilt from glam-rock to the hypnotic dance-rock of “Station to Station,” etc

2. this may be a stretch, but the papier mache heads bring to mind, at least to a hopeless music nerd like me, the line from Bowie’s “Sweet Thing” about “a shop on the corner selling papier mache / making bulletproof faces / Charlie Manson, Cassius Clay.”

3. The very length of “Reflektor,” at once indulgent and profound, instantly reminded me of another departure: The Clash, no doubt the #1 heroes of Arcade Fire (and U2, at that), deftly and shockingly moving from English punk and hard rock to the extended funk workout of “The Magnificent Seven” in 1980. Like “Reflektor,” “The Magnificent Seven” featured some seriously brilliant and unforgettable lyrics but the indulgent groove was longer than the actual song. At one point Joe Strummer even broke through the fourth wall to comment, over the extended funk workout, “It’s fuckin’ long, isn’t it?”

The dance-centric end of “Reflektor,” which is longer than the “song” section, is fuckin’ long too.

Most interesting to me, however, is the end of the “Reflektor” video, when Régine Chassagne and Win Butler, the married Arcade Fire frontman and frontwoman, walk into a warehouse. As a giant door closes on them, slowly, Butler suddenly is no longer wearing a papier mache mask of his own face. Now, as the video and song come to a close, his mask is clearly designed to resemble Bowie circa his Thin White Duke days of the “Station to Station” era.

Most important, though, is that “Reflektor” doesn’t disappoint musically. The song’s hypnotic hipster funk, which Arcade Fire hadn’t really displayed before except in “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” (which resembled ABBA more than LCD Soundsystem), doesn’t come off as self-conscious, trite or gimmicky. Not unlike Talking Heads circa “Remain in Light” (though I won’t dare compare Murphy’s impressive production to the transformative genius Brian Eno brought to the Talking Heads), Arcade Fire seems to be equally going deep artistically and flat-out enjoying infectious grooves.

“Reflektor” is a love song; an extension of Arcade Fire’s continuing social commentary on the boredom of an “advanced’ age (“We’re still connected / but are we even friends?); and simply a dance freakout for all to enjoy. In the end, it’s also only a teaser for the entire album, which comes out next month. Until then, these lines stick with me most:

“If this is heaven
I need something more
Just a place to be alone
Cause you’re my home”

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