I go back and forth on this album, or at least the concept of it. My gut reaction to "The Suburbs" was enough with the teen angst, crank up the Blondie tributes, and that's pretty much the direction they've taken with "Reflektor". They even "became" a new band called the Reflektors, complete with lily white 70's-style suits, and got a noted dance music producer to work with them on their album. If any band was due for a change after three albums of the usual, it was Arcade Fire. You could counter that by asking why they'd mess with a formula that had brought them nothing but exponentially growing success, culminating in arguably the most surprising Album of the Year Grammy wins ever. But like U2 in the 80's (a band and a style that Arcade Fire certainly have taken cues from) there's only so far you can push yourselves trying to be the world's most earnest and meaningful band before self-combusting under the weight of your own seriousness. Most people didn't see it coming with U2 -- they seemed to be in it for the long haul with the polemics they established in the 80's -- but to their infinite credit, they realized they had to become something totally different to get people to keep taking them seriously. A lot has been written about U2 embracing irony, slumming it in Berlin long before it was the in thing to do, and going OTT with the Mephisto dress up games, etc. It's been ages since a band at this level had the opportunity to follow in U2's footsteps and make the same kind of 180-degree turn.
Anyway, that's the concept. I don't go back and forth on the album itself. It's not good. Like Steven Hyden pointed out on Grantland, it feels fake, pantomime, and utterly contrived. What could have been more contrived than early 90's U2, you say? But "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways" were very much ahead of their time, there was nothing even remotely like it on the stadium rock scene. Their image might have been carved out with diamond-like precision, but the shocking thing was that U2 managed to circumvent all their peers and fast forward themselves into the 90's so smoothly. It was pantomime and contrived to the nth degree, but it was still U2, a drastically updated version of them but still instantly recognizable. It was never fake, it never felt like they were trying to shed their skins completely. The same can't be said for "Reflektor". I have no longer have any sense of the band behind the record.
The lack of editing that nearly killed "The Suburbs" has made "Reflektor" quite the slog. It's exhausting to listen to track after track of six-to-seven minute disco rock that never seem to hit any true valley or peak. There are some bright spots, like the title track, but the stabs at reggae and funk couldn't possibly hit any further from their mark -- whatever the opposite of riddim and funky are, they found it.
I also have no idea how any of this will fit with their earlier material when they play live. Besides the obvious inclusions of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)", I'm not sure how they'll manage to piece together a cogent live set, or how they can pull off the loose and laid back "Reflektor" material night after night when their live shows are famous for being anything but.