WASHINGTON POST: Look, I’m sure they’re very nice people, but on their fourth album, “Reflektor,” Arcade Fire still sound like gigantic dorks with boring sex lives. After winning a Grammy for album of the year in 2011, they’re still the biggest rock band on the block, still making music mysteriously devoid of wit, subtlety and danger. And now, they’re really into bongo drums, too. We should all be repulsed. Only partially because of the bongos.Mostly because this is rock music that lazily presumes life on the digital plane has made us so numb, so unable to feel for ourselves, that the only way to reach our hearts is by applying a pneumatic hammer to our classic rock pleasure centers. Bowie! Springsteen! Talking Heads! Blam-blam-blam! Bludgeoning and vacant, “Reflektor” is an album that both condescends and sells itself short, over and over again, for 76 insufferable minutes.
The band’s problems are laid bare early with “We Exist,” a mid-tempo sulker that initially sounds like Fleetwood Mac trying to moonwalk through “Billie Jean” in uncomfortable footwear. Frontman Win Butler — still as dreadful a lyricist as ever — tries to correct his charisma deficiency with an affected sneer: “You’re down on your knees, begging us please, praying that we don’t exist.” (Dramatic pause.) “We exist!” They exist! But who are they? After four albums, Arcade Fire are still struggling to present themselves as distinct and compelling human beings. Their anthems feel like cavernous vessels vast enough to stow the most bloated of emotions, but it’s always been on the listener to fill them up.
Too frequently on “Reflektor,” Butler’s lyrics assume a murky us-against-them posture. It’s intended to feel like an insidery group hug, but it only highlights his band’s chronic personality gap. And when co-vocalist Regine Chassagne materializes to play Butler’s vocal foil, she toggles between cheerleadery English and breathy French, because — ooh-la-la — it wraps these bland songs in a thin cloak of cosmopolitan sophistication. Butler is at his most irritating with “Normal Person,” pulling David Byrne’s oversize blazer out of the closet and asking, “Is anything as strange as a normal person? Is anyone as cruel as a normal person?” You tell us, dude. When a band this massively popular, this risk-averse, this patently un-weird takes heartfelt shots at the “norms,” it’s hard to decide whether to laugh, barf or weep for the future of rock-and-roll itself. MORE
ROLLING STONE: The best album Arcade Fire have ever made…a thrilling act of risk and renewal by a band with established commercial appeal and a greater fear of the average, of merely being liked. MORE