Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In these times when artists stick with an identifiable sound (Gee, what might the next Coldplay album sound like?) you don't expect anyone to offer a reviewer that humorous line, "Hope you like our new direction?"
So it's hats off then to Arcade Fire who here across a double disc get in touch with their inner Eighties and at times conjure up the spirits of Tears For Fears/Duran Duran and others who were often crying or dancing alone under the mirror ball. Even their imagery here is very Eighties: satellites, cameras, heaven, disturbing voices . . .
All that emotional dislocation which was very much evident in synth-pop of that decade.
And the opener here, the seven minute title track opens with "trapped in a prison, in a prism of light". Better still it has a guest vocal by David (Let's Dance-era) Bowie.
So this is quite a musical shift for the Montreal band who started life with horns, xylophone, strings, double bass and pure indie-folk cred and whose last album Suburbs was very much earthbound.
Ironically the impetus for this "new direction" (perhaps less a departure than an extension of elements on Neon Bible and Suburbs) was trip to Haiti by Win Butler and Regine Chassange (her home country) where their encounters with local music put them in a mind to incorporate different elements into their sound, just as Talking Heads did with African rhythms.
And in a few places here you certainly get a whiff of that nervously agitated band.
Doubtless producer James Murphy (of the now-defunct LCD Soundsystem) played a large part in shaping the sound, but the result is often music which stretches and pounds behind lyrics which ask some serious philosophical questions about life, culture and -- yes, that Eighties concern -- emotional isolation (especially on the slow and unsettling Here Comes the Night Time).
As with most double discs (the second less frenetic than the first), it is far too long and there is some makeweight stuff (Awful Song sounds a bit like solo Lennon-gone-drearyfunk) or overlong material (the last two minutes of Night Time add nothing to a decent dance-pop song, Supersymmetry rolls out to an unnecessary 11 minutes after one of those annoying fake endings and 20 seconds of silence before it winkles its way back for about six minutes of barely-there synth-soundscape stuff).
But despite some shortcomings (and long-comings if you get my drift) you do have to admire their courage and, when they nail things with urgent rhythms and economy, you will actually like their "new direction".