Since their debut, Arcade Fire have focused on the bonds — spirituality, technology, ideology — that both create and dissolve communities and societies. Their 2004 song “Un Annee Sans Lumiere” imagined childhood life off the electric grid after a neighborhood suddenly went dark. Nine years later, as one of the biggest bands in the world, they offer the multi-part epic “Here Comes the Night Time,” inspired by the Haitian ritual of speeding home as the sun sets, a lack of reliable electricity fusing fear and excitement. In the end, both songs turn into celebrations. This is Arcade Fire: a band the size of an extended family that alternately chronicles and revels in the precarity of togetherness.
Reflektor — the title a dig at modern narcissism — is of a piece with the group’s prior three albums, though the inspiration of co-producer James Murphy (late of New York dance revivalists LCD Soundsystem) and recording sessions set in Haiti (where co-leader Regine Chassagne’s parents were born) have lent new inspiration to the band’s signature U2- and Springsteen-derived stridency. “We Exist” and “Afterlife” are braided with Caribbean polyrhythms and disco-derived thump, recalling some of the stylistic detours on the Clash’s Sandinista!, the wild 1980 triple-LP from the group that billed itself as The Only Band That Matters.
It’s indeed hard to listen to Reflektor without feeling that Arcade Fire are the 21st Century inheritors of the Clash’s self-imposed mantle. Even when dipping into dance music or incorporating lyrics in French, the group maintains a sense of purpose and drive uncommon among their guitar-rock contemporaries. The album’s title track and first single may sound like Talking Heads’ rubbery art-funk, but Chassagne and co-leader Win Butler eschew David Byrne’s tendency for abstraction and frame the song as a series of philosophical questions about togetherness in the modern age: “We’re so connected/ But are we even friends?” Whereas Byrne himself once opined “Heaven is a place/ Where nothing ever happens,” Chassagne declares “If this is heaven/ I need something more.”
It’s the nature of wanting “more” that drives Reflektor, and Arcade Fire. As a band, they consistently aim for the broadest possible impact. The things that connect us too often drive us apart just as easily, and the solution isn’t more new things, but stronger, more timeless messages. The result here is a set of powerful anthems, in both scope and function. These are huge songs designed to be delivered collectively, reflecting a sense of unity that always feels like it’s slipping away.