The Unforgettable Fire?

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”.

Bono in costume

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:

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

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

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

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:

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

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!

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11 thoughts on “The Unforgettable Fire?

  1. Great article, Tim. Really enjoyed the clips that you included. As far as reinventions go, I’d include the Beastie Boys switch from the uninspired frat rock of Licensed to Ill to the sample-laden classic, Paul’s Boutique. Tom Waits also went through quite a change from his early Bukowski-esque barfly crooner phase to the deranged carny persona on Rain Dogs and Bone Machine.

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    • Yeah, if anybody else should belong on the list, it’s the Beastie Boys – the transformation they did from the frat rockers on Licensed to Ill to the ground-breaking sampling on Paul’s Boutique and then to the old school thrash of Check Your Head a few years later…hadn’t thought of Waits but you’ve convinced me. Thx for sharing!

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  2. Thx, Chris. Funny, I can remember talking with you 20+ years ago about this lyric from Achtung Baby:

    You’ve been living underground
    Eating from a can
    You’ve been running away
    From what you don’t understand…

    Are you still a fan of the song/album?

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    • Yes, for sure Tim. It ranks up there as one of my favorite albums. I love every song on it. I think Achtung Baby was as different and as revolutionary (in the Rock genre) as any of Zeppelin’s albums (which were also out of this world). We had some great times talking about Lyrics.

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  3. Tim, just as the Beatles would have remained a fairly (Faery like or just say) innocuous musical phenomenon without Dylan’s lyrical input, I doubt Rock would have evolved without Zeppelin’s contribution. But, come to think of it, has any band really gone far beyond that sound? Grunge started with the Stones; and nobody really Rocked before Robert Plant. O hell, we’ve forgotten the King!

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  4. In answer to your first question – I think maybe we discussed it in a different post – I wonder if the inability to listen to an album from start to finish may be because the concept of an “album” is different now than years ago. I wonder if bands are writing to accommodate the iTunes single download concept rather than the ol’ putting a record on a turntable and just letting it go. That being said, I am not one to really judge on this topic. I was always a fan of the mix tape back in the day over an entire album. The last album I had that I put on an actual record player was probably Loverboy’s Get Lucky. Maybe REO Speedwagon.

    As far as Reflektor vs connector, I see the music evolution in a similar way that I see how a new love of mine has evolved: beer. Used to be that beer was beer. Pabst, Miller, Bud, Coors. Cornerstones of beer (American anyway). In music there was the Stones, Zeppelin, Dylan, even Johnny Cash – different but universally accepted as foundational influences. Back on the beer front came the craft brew movement. IPAs, stouts, ambers, pale ales, then sub categories within the subcategories, Imperial IPAs, black IPAs. And in music, we can’t just have rock and roll – it is subcategorized as indie, modern, alternative, or post-punk and on and on. Is Black Butte Porter connected to or reflective of Guiness? I don’t know, I just know it is awesome and I like it. I will drink it and let the connoisseurs like you dissect out the details for me!

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  5. Some very wise thoughts, my friend. Comparing the Stones and Dylan to Bud and Coors, brilliant. Not even our old friend Renfield could have come up with that one…and yes, I remember our discussion on the i-tunes single effect on music and I have to say that Reflektor is doing a find job at holding it off a bit longer…

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  6. Hey Tim, thanks for sharing this. I really love The Reflektors, but I also loved Arcade Fire’s previous albums. And talking about reinvention: I liked Daft Punk’s Tribute-to-Giorgio-Moroder-album from 2013, I also liked MGMT’s completely different follow-up-album to their hit album Oracular Specatular – and talking about historical albums: Talk Talk’s groundbreaking album The Spirit of Eden (from 1988) is one of my all time favorites. BTW: It’s their fourth album…

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    • I must hear that Daft Punk tribute – are there any good videos on Youtube you can send me? I loved MGMT’s first album but not so much after that – can I borrow Spirit of Eden from you?

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