“I think there’s music in heaven,” Johnny Cash once said. “There’s got to be music there.” AC/DC believes that rock and roll is the devil’s music, and that “hell ain’t a bad place to be.” And Arcade Fire wonders what comes next – after the music stops, so to speak.
“When love is gone, where does it go?” ponders Win Butler, the Montreal rockestra’s singer-lyricist and onetime theology student at McGill. The song is Afterlife, one of the 13 tracks off the band’s giant, often gleaming new album of existentialism and jumbo boogie. It’s a focused, heaving thing inspired by the rhythms and spirituality of Haiti and the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, which concerns love, death and the enigmatic hereafter. Congas are involved, as are U2-stlyle dynamics, eighties-era shimmer and David Bowie.
In short, a bass-happy Arcade Fire puts on its red shoes and dances the blues, with Reflektor finding the band more limber and athletic than ever.
Partly produced by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, the 85-minute adventure is, of course, the follow-up to 2010’s Grammy-winning album The Suburbs. Only one of the cuts, the bouncy McCartney-gets-a-dose-of-the-Clash You Already Know, sounds like something from The Suburbs. And that’s fine.
Bowie lends voice to the title track, a lean piece of disco-rock propulsion about heaven and its hall-of-mirrors mysteries: “I thought I found the way to enter. I thought I found the connector. [But] it’s just a reflector.”
The song ruminates on religion, with the suggestion that a true look in the mirror is more useful than a glance skyward. Same with Here Comes the Night Time, featuring a threatening synthesized spectre hovering over Caribbean party rhythms. It equates the night curfew of Port-au-Prince with spirituality’s sundown, both involving locked gates. Hypocritical God-peddlers are condemned: “Now the preachers they talk up on the satellite,” sings Butler, who wrote Antichrist Television Blues for 2007’s Neon Bible. “If you’re looking for hell, just try looking inside.”
For fun: I like the footloose, slouching Normal Person, a glam-rock comment on colonialism. Reggae rock happens with Flashbulb Eyes.
Those who watched last weekend’s Bridge School Benefit concert on YouTube saw the premiere of an unreleased Arcade Fire composition, I Dreamed a Neil Young Song, performed with help from the iconic Canadian singer-songwriter himself. On Reflektor, the mid-album track Here Comes the Night Time II sounds like something Young might have dreamed up. It’s a somber hymn that signals the start of Reflektor ‘s less energetic second half.
Butler’s wife Régine Chassagne (of Haitian descent), duets with her husband here and there, sometimes in French. That’s her on Supersymmetry, the gorgeous tune that follows Afterlife and closes the album with a soft landing. It’s sad resolution, dealing with the mourning for a lover.
The Righteous Brothers, like Butler, were curious about the next world. “If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand,” they preached. “If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” We’ve got a pretty good one down here too. They’ve just released one of the year’s most anticipated albums, and those who had faith in Arcade Fire are now rewarded.