Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A shoddy review of Arcade Fire's new album

Many moons ago, when the weather was clement, I was invited to a plush subterranean room where I was fed with parma ham and black coffee. Then, a very nice record company lady played me the new Arcade Fire album, and told me reviews were VERY STRICTLY EMBARGOED PLEASE.

I can't remember when the embargo lifted but, to be frank, my notes were utter bollocks, so a proper review was never on the cards. Also, I panicked and left before the album finished.

But, so what? I'm not able to pass judgment on a record after listening to it once on the wall-mounted speakers of an "exclusive" members' club - even if that's the way the band intended it to be heard. (NB: It clearly isn't).

Trying to decipher my scribblings today, it seems I was largely unmoved by Reflektor. Phrases like "reverb frenzy" and "awful, trebly thrash" crop up fairly frequently - although that could conceivably have been the fault of the sound system.

I seemed to like We Exist's "swirling dub disco coda" and Normal Person, whose chopped-up soundclash brought to mind John Lennon's razor blade experiments on the White Album.

Less impressive was You May Already Know, which prompted the comment: "Like Radiohead's Electioneering, this is the sound of an artful band trying and failing to play a big, dumb rock song."

But here's the rub: Arcade Fire albums are never going to make you scream, "stop the press, they've reinvented all of music". They're subtle, intricate suites that unfold their mysteries over repeated plays.

So why ask people to judge Reflektor in one sitting? I understand the label's desire to stop leaks. I even understand why websites (even the BBC website) get worse access than the print media. But why not scrap the idea of reviews altogether?

By the time Reflektor comes out on Monday, fans will have had the chance to hear more than half of the 13 tracks online. Here's the latest, Afterlife, in the form of a lyric video. It's time to make up your own mind.

Arcade Fire - Afterlife

PS: Several websites did post reviews based on this playback. What do you make of that? Bad practice, or necessary evil?

PPS I should be clear that I wasn't expected to file a review after this event & wouldn't have agreed to it if that had been a condition. I made notes in case they came in useful later - and was genuinely interested to hear the record. But other journalists had to accept the scenario, and that struck me as odd. 

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