Rarely does a band hit their stride with their 4th album – especially a double one like Arcade Fire’s Reflektor from 2013. If you weren’t a fan of the Beatles before the sprawling double White Album, I doubt your affection for the lads began with “Piggies” or “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”.
With A LIttle Help From My Friends
It’s safe to say that a good band usually comes into their own by their 2nd or at least 3rd album. Radiohead, for instance, really started to gain momentum with The Bends but blew the doors off with OK Computer, their third and one of the best albums of the 20th century. Their re-invention a few years later with the double punch of Kid A & Amnesiac put them in to another stratosphere all together. Watch the metamorphosis live:
- “The Bends” from The Bends circa ‘95
- “Paranoid Android” from OK Computer circa ‘97
- “Everything In Its Right Place” from Kid A/Amnesiac circa ‘01
For Rock N Roll re-invention and true innovation, one must first look to the former mop tops’ monumental leap from Please, Please Me to Revolver in the mid-60’s.
The Lads on Day Trip
Then came David Bowie’s 70’s space odyssey from Ziggy Stardust to the Berlin Trilogy via The Thin White Duke and a few other half-men, half-____ (fill in the blank).
Bowie in Flux
And before Radiohead grabbed the torch at the dawn of the new century, U2’s transformation from Americana-inspired choir boys in the 80’s to the edgy, dipterous juggernaut in the early 90’s kept the tradition alive.
The Fly in Flight
Some bands never manage to regain the magic of their 1st spin – Kings of Leon Youth & Young Manhood and The Strokes’ Is This It from the early noughties (2000-2009) come to mind. Two great performances by all these cool young dudes, but sadly nothing new:
- The Kool Kings on “Red Morning Light” circa ’03
- The Energy-Savings Strokes on “The Modern Age” circa ’01
When I think of the noughties, innovation is not the word that comes to mind. Homage in the best case, theft in the worst: Interpol as Joy Division, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as Jesus & Mary Chain, Franz Ferdinand as Gang of Four, even U2 circa ’04 as U2 circa ’81.
And when Arcade Fire debuted with Funeral in 2004, it seemed to me like they were doing a bit of everybody. Despite a shower of compliments from Bono to Bowie, I somehow couldn’t feel the heat (yeah, I know). With their Born to Run homage/follow-up Neon Bible, I was more impressed. Not a big surprise considering I’m a big fan of the 70’s E Street Band. Listening to their next offering The Suburbs was a bit like watching the latest Pixar installment – very pleasant and very forgettable. That all changed upon hearing Reflektor.
There are two possible explanations for this. In late 2012 I saw them admirably back Mick Jagger on a Brian Jones-era Stones classic on Saturday Night Live.
The Red Rooster in Full Strut
My second encounter with the Fire came when stumbling across this funny and damn catchy video of the Reflektors performing “Here Comes The Night Time”, with a little help from their friends. Could the Reflektors have managed to separate the Fire from their noughties’ peers the same way the alter egos of Sgt. Pepper and Ziggy Stardust did for The Beatles and Bowie, respectively? I really liked Franz Ferdinand’s disco-fueled 3rd album Tonight in ’09 but couldn’t tell you how the rest of the post-punk revival bands are faring post post-punk revival.
As for the true originals, I haven’t really connected to any of U2’s post All That You Can’t Leave Behind output – now almost 15 years old. However, I’ve learned to never count the Irish lads out. Radiohead’s last few albums haven’t moved me much. I did enjoy Bowie’s comeback with last year’s Next Day and have also been mildly impressed with McCartney’s new New one, but haven’t listened to either more than a few times.
Which of course begs the question – is the music of today less compelling than that of the 20th century? Or, have my tastes changed so drastically that I can’t be compelled to listen to an album from start to finish? I can’t answer that but what I can say is that I have come back time and time again to Reflektor – more Rushmore, less Toy Story.
Watch them kick off this concert carnival in L.A. with “Reflektor” and let me know what you think of the present day Fire aka Reflektors. Could they be a “Connector” with Beatles-Bowie-U2-Radiohead…or mere “Reflector”? Apropos of my Rock N Roll Reinvention short list, who’s on yours that’s missing on mine? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!