“Do you like rock n’ roll music?”
On November 15th 2013, I saw the gig of the decade. It was performed by The Reflektors at Glasgow Barrowlands. In case you don’t know, The Reflektors are/were the alter ego of Arcade Fire and they had decided to launch their new album, Reflektor, with a mini tour at small, intimate venues. Oh, they also asked the audience to dress up kinda fancy for the gig. I was so fortunate in getting a ticket. I was right down the front and it was one of the most memorable gigs I have ever attended.
The setlist almost entirely comprised the new album. They didn’t play Lies or The Suburbs. It didn’t matter, because the songs on Reflektor were (still are) strong enough to stand on their own.
I love it when an established band takes a risk. When they deviate from what everyone expects them to do. On that basis, Reflektor is a quite astonishing album. It is a radical departure from their earlier work on Funeral and Neon Bible as they set about reinventing themselves as a dance/disco/electronic/salsa outfit. Their disillusionment with straightforward rock is revealed at the beginning of Normal Person, when Win Butler asks “do you like rock n’ roll music/ ’cause I don’t know if I do”. Evidently.
It’s a long album, with long songs. More complex, more dense than their earlier works. The electronic/dance feel is heightened by the presence of James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem behind the production desk. He creates a heady, swirling soupçon of rhythms and grooves that drive this album forward.
And some of the songs are amongst the finest ever recorded by the band. The aforementioned Normal Person sashays wonderfully. The title track is utterly magnificent. Joan of Arc starts as a frenetic punk anthem before morphing into a swaggering call to arms, underpinned by the most amazing bass riff. Here Comes the Night Time is an absolute fiesta.
And there are darker moments. Both Porno and We Exist hint at the isolation that comes with being different, of refusing to conform and fit in. Both are beautifully composed.
Despite all of that, I honestly feel that Reflektor could have been so much more. There are moments on the album that feel unnecessary. The prolonging of Supersymmetry is one example. And I’m certain that one or two of the less powerful tracks could’ve been dropped.
However, I’m nitpicking. What’s here is a thing of great wonder. It’s ambitious and it’s the sound of a band who aren’t content to simply rehash what’s worked for them previously. And that has to be applauded and celebrated. All in all, it was worth dressing up for in November 2013.