“If this is heaven/I need something more,” Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Arcade Fire‘s founding singers, declare in close, almost whispered harmony as the opening title song of their band’s extraordinary new album goes into high gear. Reflektor is seven and a half busy minutes of art and party. Over a strident-disco hybrid of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice,” Arcade Fire and their new co-producer, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, throw brittle-fuzz guitar licks, grunting bass, mock-grand piano and ballooning synth chords across deep reverb like frantic instrumental argument. They also find room for David Bowie, one of Arcade Fire’s first and biggest fans, who sings with Butler near the end and repurposes the descending vocal flourish from his 1975 hit “Fame.”
The way Butler and Chassagne, who are married, sing those lines in “Reflektor” is a sublime moment in the commotion. It is also a perfect summary of their group’s still-fervent indie-born hunger after a decade of mainstream success, and specifically, the decisive, indulgent ambition on Reflektor: a two-record, 75-minute set of 13 songs and the best album Arcade Fire have ever made. Founded in 2003, the Montreal-based band has always thought and acted big, using serious echo and drum-circle-like percussion to amplify the emotional mysteries in Win’s U2-meets-elliptical-Springsteen writing. Arcade Fire’s third album, 2010’s The Suburbs, was urgent and clear, a record about dreams and escape, gassed with classic-rock punch. It was a Number One hit and rightly won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
It is tempting to call Reflektor Arcade Fire’s answer to the Rolling Stones’ 1972 double LP, Exile on Main Street. The similarities (length, churn, all that reverb) make it easy. But Reflektor is closer to turning-point classics such as U2’s Achtung Baby and Radiohead’s Kid A – a thrilling act of risk and renewal by a band with established commercial appeal and a greater fear of the average, of merely being liked. “If that’s what’s normal now, I don’t want to know,” Butler sings in “Normal Person,” sounding like a guy for whom even this heaven, next time, won’t be enough. — Rolling Stone