Loosening up to diminishing returns.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Merge)
Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s little-big band that could crossed over from the indie-sphere after winning Grammy gold for learning to drive in the suburbs. Though claimed and cherished by the Pitchfork crowd, Butler’s aspiration has always matched the size of his Texas home. “When the family gets too big, you find a bigger house,” he told SPIN in 2010. So much for fear of selling out. Untethered from the trappings of a scene he had little interest in – and with license to do whatever he damn well pleases – Butler calls in retired LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy to produce a double disc centered on dancing. Relying on polyrhythms inspired by Chassagne’s native Haiti and borrowing the aesthetic of Bowie’s arena glam, their influences are apparent, but their intentions are murky. The title track about love in the digital age is onto something – as is the one that ponders what it means to be normal. But they kill the momentum and the good ideas when they begin drawing parallels to Greek mythology on rudderless songs that refuse to budge. If it sounds like a mixed bag it’s because it is. Even Butler admits it. “No shit we’re confused!” Maybe they should move back in with their parents. GRADE: B+
Lady Gaga – ARTPOP (Interscope)
The eponymous track refers to artistic freedom as a means of self-expression and individuality. Sound familiar? In short, she’s repackaged the ethos of Born This Way along with that record’s penchant for vague excess. On this album, another one intended to be everything to everyone, she declares her ARTPOP could mean anything. Such pseudo-profundity reads well on a bumper sticker, but her ambitions are outworked by her strenuous grasp for cultural crosspollination. Songs about fashion are chic, but raving about Donatella Versace ain’t making anyone move the way the R. Kelly cameo does. The drug anthems are expected, but the Broadway bombast of “Dope” is pleasing only to Meatloaf. Pastiche and compartmentalized, it’s lesser than the sum of its parts. Though flawed and inconsistent, she’s too smart to make a dud. She remains pop’s funniest songwriter, and her ability to craft a worthwhile chorus is undiminished. Disregard the pretense. Just dance – especially to the ones where she equates sex to power. GRADE: B+