Arcade Fire - Reflektor
There is little glamour in this pursuit.
If you ever harboured notions that writing about music was still a free pass to an elevated world of endless cocktail parties, whispered gossip and needy ingenues desperate for the break your silky keyboard skills will undoubtedly deliver, you’re wrong.
From the 1970s through to the end of the century certainly, the record industry danced cautiously with members of the press, aware a bad review could stop an album - and sometimes an entire career - stone dead. But when it’s the only game in town you tend to play it.
The digitisation of music, which has run alongside a concurrent decline in music press readership, has made labels frostier, believing journalists and bloggers to be the likely source of damaging pre-release leaks - even though you can count the proven instances on the fingers of one hand. So the relationship has changed, and labels have sought to break the reliance on all those publications that spoiled the party for too long.
With artists able to communicate directly with fans, and streaming allowing the listener to give albums a trial run - often before they even hit the shops - album reviews are less important. That shift in power makes publications ever more reliant on whatever goodwill remains and it means there’s often a sheepish kowtowing to whatever wheeze the record industry throws our way.
One such device is the controlled playback, where publications are invited along to hear an album in advance - but with no opportunity to replay an album or properly get familiar with it. If that results in bland, bet-hedging reviews it’s hardly a surprise. Many of the reviews you’ll have read for Reflektor, the new album from Canada’s Arcade Fire, were based on just that scenario. In a year when many of the big albums came with little or no advance warning (think Bowie, Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine), you’ll grab onto whatever scraps you’re given just to try and stay, if not ahead, then just in the game.
Thing is, you learn to live with this shit. When you fancy covering an album and that's the offer, or you’re directed towards a stream playing out on the website of a national newspaper, you think ‘Fuck it’ and you go and listen to something more interesting instead. No-one dies and the wheels keep turning.
So what happens when, instead of chasing the page hits or scramble to get something online before your 'rivals', you pause and try and offer something more considered? Maybe take a few weeks to properly digest an album; treat it like a work of art?
Well, every time I’ve listened to Reflektor it’s been while doing the dishes or some other work in the kitchen. Some people seem to think it’s too long but I rather like it.