62 of 84 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Reflektor (Vinyl)
Writing a review for Arcade Fire's latest has been a daunting task; on one hand you have the Greek myth of Orpheus that much of the lyrical content in Reflektor centers around and very quickly an album review becomes an undergraduate lesson in Greek mythology and its underlying influence on Western culture. On the other? The expansive and impressive array of instruments, recording techniques, vocal harmonies, and blissful bombardment of melodic tone that pervades throughout the entire album. The end result is Reflektor, the fourth studio album by Montreal based Arcade Fire that transcends genre and medium; an amalgamation of music and literature that enjoyably educates the senses whilst providing relaxation and reflection. Simply put, one of the best albums I've ever heard.
Before Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and before Romeo and Juliet, there was Orpheus and Eurydice. Depending on publisher, website, or cigarette smoking historian, the stories of Orpheus can differ greatly. For the purpose of eventually wanting to talk about a music album an extremely short abridged version will have to suffice. Orpheus himself is credited in ancient Greek as being one of the most legendary musicians and poets, his lyre and voice capable of creating such beautiful sound and prose that animals, men, and gods themselves would become charmed and forego anything else save the sound of the lyre. Numerous tales exist of Orpheus using his lyre to escape danger, including when traveling by the island home to the sirens sisters of Iliad fame. Whereas Odysseus used wax to drown the sirens sound, Orpheus himself overcame them and saved the ship by providing a more enticing tune. Enter Eurydice, daughter of Appolo and wood nymph. The two are married and during the wedding day feast Eurydice is bitten by a viper and quickly dies. This begins the journey of Orpheus to the underworld to plead his case to Hades for Eurydice's return. An epic journey ensues with Orpheus charming Cerebrus (hellhound, gate guardian), and striking a deal with Hades to return to the upper realm with Eurydice, with one condition: Orpheus must walk in front of Eurydice the whole way and is not allowed to look back until reaching the upper realm. The album cover for Reflektor is exactly this: Eurydice walking behind Orpheus with her arms around him amid their way back to the upper realm (See I'm really going somewhere with this).
Tragically, near the end of the journey Orpheus doubts Eurydice's presence and begins to wonder whether she is merely an apparition or that perhaps Hades has deceived him. Doubting when crossing the portal, Orpheus tempts fate and turns around to look upon his face, it is indeed Eurydice but since she has not crossed the threshold she disappears and returns to the underworld. The rest of the story is history as they say, Orpheus becomes a raging alcoholic (not really) and spurns the gods the rest of his day. "Porno" and "Afterlife" capture this loss in an incredible way. Why is it the greatest love story? Because the two don't end up together. Why should you care about this? Trust me, it will help you in deciphering latter half of Reflektor.
Reflektor starts strong, the title track being a lengthy 7 minute jaunt that reverberates in true Arcade Fire fashion, layered lo-fi distortion in and out of an ever advancing drum beat accompanied by various forms of percussion, horn, piano, and alternating vocals from Win Butler and Régine Chassagne (Régine's elegantly in French). There is a very distinct and danceable foundation established in "Reflektor" that comes and goes all throughout the album. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame co-produced the album along with Markus Dravis and influence by the former is noticeable: These are some of Arcade Fire's grooviest and collectively lengthiest tracks. "Flashbulb Eyes," the albums shortest and perhaps most lyrically straightforward track is a mix of rock reggae with a dash of rumba. In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier in the year Win Butler stated that traveling to Haiti had a strong influence on the album's sound and I find it rather enjoyable. The Haitian influence is strongest throughout the first side of the album, but rock fans don't lose faith, there's enough to go around."Normal Person" quickly descends from a piano rag ballad to a guitar driven guitar, drum, and on careful listen one can even hear bongos. "Here Comes The Night Time" is a compelling introspective about the men and women traversing the world selling religion. Arcade Fire has never been shy about alternating instruments and inserting electronic "noise" or horn in the most appropriate places. These aren't looping beats or guitar riffs however, but planned instrumental nuances that add a subtle layer of depth that is appreciated. Whether living room acoustics or headphones, this album is seriously busy.
Around "Awful Sound" is when our Greek education comes into play as the remainder of Reflektor plays out like the Orpheus saga. Orpheus sings to Eurydice in "Awful Sound" and Eurydice returns the favor in the next track, "It's Never Over." The two tracks in quick succession are more than satisfactory and leagues beyond anything the writing in anything being released in movie theaters. Those music fans who might find phobia at the thought of a sad love story driving an album album take solace in the opinion that musically the back half of Reflektor is just as strong if not better than the first half of the album. There is still plenty of rock and indie soundscapes to be had and nothing comes across contrived or melodramatic.
Since I've quite literally spoiled the story for you I'll leave you to your own devices to lyrically interpret the remainder of the album's themes and soundscapes. I just hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Every generation has iconic bands and musicians and if Arcade Fire hasn't already been identified at the forefront of this current generation then this magnum opus should help them reach that plateau. Find more reviews at [...]
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 29, 2013 6:29:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 29, 2013 6:29:49 AM PDT
Garrett Redd says:
I love knowing the history behind an albums themes, thank you very much for pointing this out! I look forward to hearing the album!
Posted on Oct 29, 2013 8:15:29 AM PDT
M. Maker says:
I think you mean James "Murphy" of LCD Soundsystem. James "Mercer" is the singer of the Shins.
Posted on Oct 29, 2013 11:03:59 AM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2013 11:31:23 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 29, 2013 11:33:44 AM PDT
Russ Bashaw says:
You're right, thanks M.Maker I fixed it. Alainsane, sorry that bothered you, don't let it detract from the music.
Posted on Oct 29, 2013 3:08:23 PM PDT
yo,thank you for that.
Posted on Oct 29, 2013 8:43:20 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
Excellent commentary. Thanks for the insight into the album. I agree with you, this album is a landmark achievement.
Posted on Oct 30, 2013 12:02:36 PM PDT
Russ, thanks for the guide to understanding the themes in Reflektor. I am listening to it over and over again today and I'm immersed in a musical soundscape that just keeps on expanding as I go on. This is an amazing album and a huge step for this band. Love it.
Posted on Nov 2, 2013 11:32:06 PM PDT
My favourite track, "It's Never Over", can't help but remind me of a scene in The Sandman. Either in the special adapting the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, or a later issue in which Morpheus (the god of dreams) later visits the decapitated head of his son Orpheus in Thrace (decapitated because he had been torn apart by the Maenads), Morpheus talks about how Orpheus should have just left things alone, gone on with his life, and allow the passage of time to lessen his loss. The lines in the song about "When you get older/you will discover/It's Never Over" is like a response to that notion.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2013 5:35:05 PM PST
A spot-on review. I am so glad you took the time to actually focus on the lyrical content of the album without being stuck in the disco component. This is one amazing album and as any genre-breaking record, it is destined to create mixed reviews. I am elated that you are on the positive side of the history =]
Posted on Nov 11, 2013 7:47:58 PM PST
Damon L. Jacobs says:
One of the best reviews I've read here on Amazon! Thank you for such a thorough, informed, and enlightening perspective on this great music.
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