Arcade Fire’s Refelektor, a Good, If Not Long, Trip for the Soul

reflektorThere hasn’t been a new album introduction more eagerly anticipated (in what has been a very robust 2013 for new music) than Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. This even affected normally calm heads such as this writer who bought a CD on “pre-order” for the first time ever. I have followed the band ever since I first saw them on “Later, with Jools” with the first album “Funeral,” and they have never disappointed with their offerings. The world has become a bit wiser to the American-Canadian combination since their last album “The Suburbs” unexpectedly snagged a Grammy award in 2011.

I had already heard the new single “Reflektor” as well as “Afterlife” (more on that later), and then I made what I thought was a huge mistake; I religiously listen to BBC 6Music’s Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable program every week, and wouldn’t you know it that they would have the panel review “Reflektor” before I even had a chance myself. I figured this would have jaded my opinion, especially as Gideon Coe felt that listening to the double album was a bit of “hard work.” So with all that up front, I was prepared to be disappointed.

How wrong I was.

Simply put, “Reflektor” may be the bands best work yet, and that is saying an awful lot. As a listening experience it provides one with all sorts of emotions to sort through, with a mixture of sounds that range from slightly disco (title track), to African influenced beats, to electronica. Enjoying it is a mesmerizing yet uplifting experience.

The title track seems to underscore the Fire’s uneasiness with their recent success, with the line; trapped in a prism/a prism of light…/alone on a stage/in the reflective age, that somehow they feel now they have been exposed to the musical mainstream. This would also explain the band’s decision to make appearances under the “Reflektor’s” name. As if they are trying to establish a new identity not as exposed to the world.

Tracks on the first CD such as “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Normal Person” highlight just how talented the band are in bringing different genres and influences into the same track. If there is one area where I’d agree with the professionals who reviewed it on 6Music is that a double album may not have been all that necessary, and some of the tracks do tend to linger on a tad longer than perhaps they should, but as an old Prog Rock guy I kind of like it that way.

For me, the gem of the entire double album is “Afterlife.” For those that have loved, lost, and repeated the process, this is a song for you. Lamenting the fact that when the love is gone in a relationship, you’re left in a state of afterlife, and what do you do when that happens? The song doesn’t offer any answers, but it powerfully describes the emotions that most of us at one time in our lives has been through.

While it’s a long listen as a double album, it is nonetheless a worthwhile trail through the emotions and immense musicianship of a band that is at the peak of its powers right now.

Go have a listen and decide for yourself.

In Your Tracks

What does one do when all you feel is enveloped by such stunning beauty. So much so that it stops you cold in your tracks. This is how Josh felt right now, he tried to avert his eyes, tried so hard not to seem so obvious to the point of embarrassment for such a shy young man. But it was all for naught, he had never seen Christine in the manner that she stood before him in the street. Dressed in soft lace, flowing white all over her body that all other color had disappeared around her. Josh simply had to break out of the trance the dress and it’s occupant had put him in.

“Do you like the dress,” Christine said, looking for reassurance from an unlikely source on women’s fashion. In the year that she had first met josh, she seemed to know less about him now than that first day in the shop. He was jovial, but not funny. Professional, but not hard working. He was an enigma wrapped around a riddle, and this had prevented her from wanting to know more. Basically, she didn’t know where to start.

The Case for League Mergers in Europe: Part One

As the momentum for merging football leagues in Europe is gaining, I thought it was time to provide more of my thought process into why this is such a great idea for all involved. I won’t try and recreate the article that I was graciously allowed to provide to the “No Short Corners” blog, but will instead try and focus on specific reasons why consolidation is in the best interests of European football, and failing to do so will lead to stagnation and (perish the thought) flat or declining TV revenues. Part one focuses on revenue and attendances below:

As exciting as it is to watch Champions League encounters, especially ones where your favorite team plays well. It is apparent that the gulf between the haves and the have nots of European football will only continue to widen over the next few years. Instead of looking to parity to save themselves from boring encounters, UEFA has instituted new rules determined to keep the top four leagues winning Europe’s biggest trophy. Financial Fair Play is a great idea, please don’t misunderstand me, but without rules to help lower league teams compete with the top four, it ensures a financial disparity that will be all but impossible to overcome. So, the champions of Scotland (Celtic) as good a team as they have assembled over the past 18 months with their meager resources, still have no realistic shot at competing with the likes of Juventus, who only had what seemed like three scoring chances the whole game on Tuesday night, and yet scored on all of them. Celtic showed promise and initiative the whole game, with naught to show for it (Juventus physical tactics aside).

Aside from the match itself, Leagues around Europe who are not based in England, Spain, Germany, and Italy are looking at ways to increase revenue (mostly from television) as well as their competitiveness in European events. The sad fact that they are based in a “second tier” country severely limits their ability to do so.

For example, Celtic have the third largest stadium capacity in the United Kingdom, behind only Manchester United and Arsenal. Their fierce cross town rivals Rangers have the fifth largest. Both these facilities are regularly sold out, with some of the most passionate support in world football. However, because they are restricted to play in the Scottish Premier League, their TV revenue is a paltry £2M a year (note this does not include their recent £28M windfall from Celtic’s 2012-13 Champions League participation). This is for a team that consistently has its stadium filled to capacity (60,000).

Now let’s compare those numbers to a team in the English Premier League; Wigan Athletic. Now, I have absolutely nothing personal against Wigan, they have a great manager, play attractive flowing football, and have worked hard to get into the EPL and manage to just stay there every year for the past 7 seasons, with an average finish of 15th place (three places above the relegation zone). However, due to this “just enough to survive” mentality they have been able to collect nearly £50M in TV revenue every year. That’s a lot of money for a club that can’t even draw a paltry 20,000 fans to their home games (roughly equal to the average MLS game in the United States, the country’s fourth largest sport ).

The Scottish champions, with far less TV revenue, draw an average of 46,000 to their home games, and thats even without the presence of their fierce rivals Rangers in the top flight for the 2012-13 season. Consider that the second biggest draw in the SPL this year (Heart of Midlothian) have an average attendance of 13,000, it is easy to see that Celtic would be a financial boon to any league they participated in.

Yet, the powers that be in the English Premier League are determined not to open their doors to clubs such as Celtic. Never mind the fact that clubs outside of England already ply their trade in the SPL (Swansea, and maybe Cardiff very soon, but this is often scoffed at by pundits in England). Perhaps they realize the threat that a club like Celtic can muster with an additional £50M in revenue. And are content, due solely to geography, to allow second tier clubs to play in their top flight. With recent evidence showing that the EPL is no longer the “best league in the world,” as that distinction now belongs to La Liga in Spain.

This concept of “regionalisation” has been bandied about before, whether in the form of the “Atlantic League” concept (which is a doomed one from the start) or other forms of mergers. Certainly, for clubs such as Celtic, finding a more attractive league is truly their only option. Other leagues around Europe are starting to see the light on this as the Russian and Ukrainian leagues are now looking to merge. This is being driven by the top teams in the Russian league and it has been given its blessing by UEFA President Michael Platini, a good view on it and its effect on Scottish football can be found on the Celtic Quick News webiste.

What Russia and Ukraine are realizing is the fact that consolidation brings values such as increased competition, interest (read: money) from the media, and parity. Parity is a dirty word in England, as they general attitude is having the same four clubs at the top every year is “good” for English football, and when lower teams succeed its due to the fact that the quality of the league is poorer, not that these teams have improved by any great deal.

Consolidation is not just happening in Russia, there is also talk of merger in the Balkans and Scandavia. In the case of the former it has been driven by the fact that since the split of Yugoslavia, their respective football leagues have declined substantially, to the point that former powerhouses such as Red Star Belgrade are now minnows named Crvena Zvezda (ok, thats Serbian for Red Star, but if you have followed football for years you get my point).

As long as a second tier of successful football clubs exists, this issue will come to the fore again and again. Consider that five clubs outside the top four nations made it through to the last sixteen of the champions league (Celtic, Paris St. Germain, Galatasaray, Shaktar, and Porto), and only two of clubs face a reasonable chance of advancing to the quarter finals (factoring in Celtic’s loss to Juventus and Paris’s win over Valencia, the latter’s rise to prominence largely financed by Qatar investment company). So it will be as you were in the Champions League once again for 2013.

Next: How Scotland can thrive without Celtic and Rangers in a merged league.

The Last Stand for Crackers

Today, hopefully, millions of Americans are going to the polls to elect their next President. Although the vote is restricted to just citizens of the United States, it’s impact is felt in every corner of the globe. Which is why the rest of the world follows our politics with such zeal. 
 
This election year has been a tense, fraught affair between two moderates. As an American voter, you may not agree with such a statement given the hyperbole that has surrounded this election, but it is true. What is different is the adoption of extreme rhetoric, mainly from the right, or more specifically, the Tea Party and its denizens. This group of people, with their millions in funding from right-wing stalwarts such as the Koch brothers, have taken the discourse in this country to a new low. To me, it seems that the Tea Party are not interested in debate, freedom of speech, or other guarantees of the Constitution if it interferes with their world view. Compromise and honest disagreements are words not in their vocabulary. Their vitriol is to such an extent that I actually worry about a possible assassination attempt on Barack Obama if he is re-elected by these extremists (there are numerous examples of tea partiers who have intimated that an attack just might happen, so its not just my alarmist view).
 
I have spent a lot of time, perhaps too much time wondering why the Tea Party are so disrespectful of the current President, much more so than those of us on the left who were not in favor of George W. Bush (most leftists initially supported his war cries for Afghanistan and Iraq, the cost of which, ironically, has built much of the national debt the Tea Party rail against) I thought that the Tea Party was a creation of the Koch and Fox News empires as a way to constantly bash any administration that simply doesn’t agree with them. But then, the real reason hit me, I didn’t like it, didn’t realize what has really become so obvious, that the Tea Party are a product of the changing demographic of our nation; The Tea Party represents “A Cracker’s Last Stand.”
 
Now full disclosure, I, myself, am a “cracker” and an American one who resides in the UK. Many of my Scottish friends ask me why the country is not as in love with Obama as the rest of the world are. Instead of focusing on policy, I find that my answer relies of the changing face of America, and the fear those changes are having on a predominantly white population. It’s not just old fashioned racism thats at work here, but the fear that, for millions of white voters, they are no longer the deciders in national elections. I was told recently that 2012 will represent the last election where the white voter will be a majority. I haven’t found any evidence to support this, but the Brookings institute has shown that the percentage of white voters has decreased in every election this century. And, by 2050, the US will be predominantly a Hispanic nation.
 
So, I believe it is fear that drives the Tea Party and their message, fear that future Presidents will not be “like” them and thus represent “their” interests. It is unfounded of course, but fear is a powerful emotion, and I think it will take a few election cycles (and possibly the election of a  conservative person of color). Now I’m sure many a republican will read this, scoff, and then provide all the reasons why Obama really is Hitler, a tax and spend liberal, and a partisan politician. But in my honest view, Obama governs as a left of center moderate, and that is probably just what the country needs right now.