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Bowie Aids Arcade Fire ‘Reflektor’ in Race for Best Album

Arcade Fire
Members of the rock band Arcade Fire. From left, Jeremy Gara, Regine Chassagne, William Butler, Win Butler, Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury. Photographer: Guy Aroch/Nasty Little Man PR via Bloomberg

Arcade Fire’s ambitious “Reflektor” sounds like it should come with a sticker: “Caution advised, double heavy-concept album.”

Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice is on the cover and among the many six-minute tracks are “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus).”

While all this mythology probably says something profound about husband and wife Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, the duo at the heart of the Canadian band, rest assured: The CD, out this week, is far from a hard listen.

It doesn’t get much better than the title track, which has David Bowie on backing vocals. Bowie is a longterm fan, and this CD may pip his “The Next Day” for the best of 2013.

There’s plenty of joyous dancing. “You Already Know” has the word “hit” written all over it.

As the album progresses, co-producer James Murphy -- best known for LCD Soundsystem -- helps the six-strong group fuse a Haitian vibe (Chassagne is of Haitian descent), unhinged punk, Motown, “Miss You” era Rolling Stones and Talking Heads.

Those of us who have seen Arcade Fire live know they don’t take themselves so seriously. The Phil Spector style wall of sound fills festival fields; they took on the name the Reflektors and pretended to be a covers act to play a few small shows.

This all sugars the pill of the serious songs about death that marked the band’s debut “Funeral.” The doomy “Neon Bible” and atmospheric “The Suburbs” were both my records of the year in 2007 and 2010, and the new collection does its best to top them.

Only caveat: Its battling guitars and synthesizers threaten to get too much in places, leaving you yearning for some of the quiet acoustic moments of previous outings. Still, “Reflektor” has two distinct discs, the second more ambient, and enough mood swings to hold interest over 85 minutes.

Butler sings “if this is heaven, I don’t know what it’s for… I need something more.” For now, this is enough.

Rating: *****.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Martin Gayford on art and John Mariani on wine.

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