You’re a music fan, so you already know that Arcade Fire’s Reflektor was released this week, and you probably already know that it was met with general praise. Not universal, though; we’re so far advanced in this digital age that the backlash now comes pre-packaged and is ready to meet any and all hype at the precise moment when the gates open. Reflektor is no exception, and today we’d like to honor the bold pioneers of this particular backlash by counting down the 10 most scathing reviews.
10. THE BOSTON GLOBE.
In a short review, James Reed pays homage to the legions of insane Arcade Fire fans who become enraged if you don’t compare the band to Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi, but he manages to slip in a quick punch before he’s through.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “It is, however, the Montreal rockers’ most hit-or-miss effort, at once arresting for its audacity and kaleidoscopic swirl of influences but often exhausting with songs that buckle under their own weight.”
The Verdict: Apparently reviewing Arcade Fire albums has been like offering critique in a college fiction writing class. Even if you hate it, you have to lead with something positive to cushion the blow.
Tom Breihan either kinda likes the album or is really, really afraid to flat-out say that he doesn’t. There are a lot of Reflektor reviews like this, where the writer is like, “so many amazing moments!” while also saying, “it’s kinda boring and not good.” But Breihan lets his critical impulse loose for at least one great dig:
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “Indeed, Chassagne is a way better singer than her husband, and Win doesn’t quite have the vocal swagger that he needs to convincingly animate some of the funkier vamps here.”
The Verdict: I’m really tempted to move this closer to no. 1 since Breihan is the only reviewer attempting to sow marital discord between Win and Regine, but he really does seem to enjoy most of the album.
8. PASTE MAGAZINE
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “This is the band’s least melodic album.”
The Verdict: Ryan Reed’s review was actually relatively positive and completely non-snarky, but that didn’t stop the onslaught of INTERNET RAGE! Critics may not admit it, but the super-fans know that we’re all secretly trying to ruin Arcade Fire because we hate good music and are jealous, twisted people.
7. THE SKINNY
A lot of the negative reviews wonder if Reflektor might have been a masterpiece had Butler and James Murphy restrained some of their dithering impulses and kept it all to one disc. The Skinny goes a step further, saying the whole album is indicative of an “uncertain aesthetic.”
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “Much in line with Reflektor’s rug-pulling marketing campaign, the actual music has a worryingly ersatz quality: you wonder if there’s a twist, like maybe it’s not even them on the record. Here’s a band at play, but making music that is never really playful enough to charm, thrill, and engage in the way only they knew how.”
The Verdict: I think “schizoid meanderings” is the best two-word description of prog rock I’ve ever heard.
Steven Hyden is yet another writer who really wanted to like Reflektor, but was left cold. He even ended his review by calling them “fake,” and is unambiguous about calling it the band’s worst album.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “I’ve tried repeatedly to commune with this endless, oddly chilly record and have felt constantly rebuked. (I’ve taken to calling it Deflektor.) It is a singularly uninviting entry in the band’s catalogue — as body music, it’s downright lethargic, moving with the awkwardness of a dancer who shakes his hands twice as much as his hips.”
The Verdict: Solid stuff from Hyden, whose platform and reputation are sufficiently established that he’s not really concerned about who he offends.
5. THE GUARDIAN
Alexis Petridis pulls no punches in a review that includes the word “rhotacistic” (a misarticulation of the sound r or the substitution of another sound for it).
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “There are moments where if it was any more obviously a homage to [David Bowie’s] 1980 album Scary Monsters, they’d have had to dress up like pierrots, walking along a beach in front of a bulldozer with Steve Strange for company”
The Verdict: I couldn’t understand at least 40 percent of that review, but then again, I’m not British. Still, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t favorable.
4. CLASH MUSIC
Mike Diver, like many of the album’s critics, seems to especially hate Win Butler’s lyrics (“it concerns itself with topics of duality by regularly dipping into tired metaphors – contrasts between light and dark, day and night, and so on”), but he doesn’t stop there.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “Undercooked electronics, impotent rhetoric, too-familiar crescendo-ing structures and an overall feeling that this needs further post-production attention render ‘Reflektor’ an entirely substandard album.”
The Verdict: Solid backlashing, Clash Music. Entirely…over…standard.
3. DROWNED IN SOUND
Dan Lucas begins by comparing the album to a bad Lana Del Rey show, and gets no kinder from there.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “The aptly-titled ‘It’s Never Over’, which from start to finish sounds like it’s trying to make a chillwave epic, drags out for nearly seven lazy-sounding minutes, punctuated only by a stripped-back, minimalist breakdown….The song ends, incredibly, with the line ‘It’s over too soon’.”
The Verdict: Look, Arcade Fire, if you’re going to title one of your tracks “It’s Never Over,” expect these kinds of taunts.
My favorite part about Tom Hawking’s review is not that his title compared Reflektor to a Justin Timberlake album (though that was classic incendiary technique), but that he also attacks other reviewers for praising Arcade Fire’s “effort” and “ambition” even if they clearly didn’t like the song. He’s not just taking on the band; he’s taking on the whole damn system.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “If you decide that you’re going to release an interminable double album based around the conceit that the second half is literally a reflection of the first — Reflektor, geddit? — and precede its release with a viral marketing campaign and a whole lot of guff about attributing its songs to a fictional band called “The Reflektors”
well, you’d better make sure that it’s good. And the problem with Reflektor is that it’s not good.”
The Verdict: If the word “epic” is a balloon that has blown to absurd proportions in the Reflektor discussion, Hawking is the man with the needle.
1. WASHINGTON POST
Chris Richards is wonderful, and if you don’t believe me, read his review of a Lumineers show from January. He is the king of this particular backlash, and there can be no pretenders to the throne. I mean, look at that title: “Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’: Still devoid of wit, subtlety and danger, now with bongos.” So good.
Notably Harsh Excerpt: “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.
The Verdict: That was the very first sentence, and it just gets better from there. Rather than gradually pulling the gloves off, Richards barges through the door wearing brass knuckles. Ah, what the hell, let’s do one more excerpt, and we’ll leave it there. Take us home, Chris:
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.