The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

With a suggestive name like Neon Bible, it is clear that the Arcade Fire had bigger topics to tackle on the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut, Funeral. Where Funeral focused its themes towards personal struggles in the face of adversity, Neon Bible finds Montreal's indie darlings with a slate of larger topics on their minds. Hitting on everything from a religious regime in America, to the war in iraq, and notably the American public's somewhat (eh…very) startling dependence on television (essentially all media) to tell them how and what to think (hence…Neon Bible).

Neon Bible was big from the start. The entire thing (recorded in a Canadian church – further pushing the Arcade Fire’s obsession with religion/the church) took almost three years to wrap-up. Additionally, the album came to light under somewhat cryptic promotional work, which included a tv informercial leaked onto youtube (complete with masked band-members discussing the new album) as well as an 800 number fans could call to hear snippets of the new album. On top of it all, the band played a five night stand of shows in New York City at Judson Memorial Church, to which the mayor couldn't even get a ticket to. All in all, the Arcade Fire are a bigger band than the one that recorded Funeral, and they were out to make that clear on their sophomore release.

Of course, with motifs and a build-up as large as these it is imperative that the music be laced with a similar grandiosity. Where their self-titled EP showed glimmers of hope for what the group was sonically capable of, the band's first full-length, Funeral, teetered that line between unrestrained passion and over-the-top melodrama brilliantly, drawing rave reviews from critics everywhere. Neon Bible though, leaves that line in the rafters, and shoots far above anything that anyone who did not take themselves too seriously could not even dream of pulling off. In 2006, I praised bands going above and beyond the call of duty (see: The Dears, My Chemical Romance), but those guys look like wallflowers compared the Arcade Fire. This outfit, equipped with a much larger recording budget than their last effort, raised the drama bar so high on Neon Bible, that if the next album is not simultaneously released with a movie/stage production, it will be hailed as a stagnant, or even boring (joking...but the point is made).

Neon Bible’s opening track, “Black Mirror” sweeps in with a much darker feel than the band’s prior work. Full with strings and organ, “Black Mirror” kind of sets the tone for the entire album, which feels covered by an almost ominous veil. The organ notably reappears on two other standout Neon Bible tracks; the album’s stunning first single and not so subtle anti-war/Bush track, “Intervention”, as well as the powerful “My Body Is A Cage” which feels and sounds (to an untrained ear) like it was pulled directly from The Phantom of the Opera.

While music writers were busy comparing Win Butler to David Byrne after the somewhat offbeat Funeral came out, they will all be nodding to Springsteen after listening to the ostentatious Neon Bible. Butler makes his best attempt at the Boss on several of Bible’s tracks, but most notably “(Antichrist Television Blues)”. I would argue that this track is the climax of Neon Bible, and sounds more vintage Springsteen than even Springsteen can pull off anymore. Surprisingly enough, “(Antichrist Television Blues)”, which finds Butler stringing together mouthfuls of words about a father trying to better his life via his talented daughter, over a shuffling guitar, is one of the more sparse tracks (relatively speaking) on the album, and it still manages to encompass everything the Arcade Fire were trying to bring to the table with Neon Bible. The entire album builds up to this point, and closes on a very strong note after the track, but like Act III of a four Act play, this is where it all comes together.

I have only managed to touch on a few of the standout tracks, but Neon Bible is perhaps one of the best flowing albums I have heard in a long time. From start to finish the songs all just contextually make sense, and it would be difficult to imagine them standing alone (or anywhere else for that matter). Even the epic “No Cars Go”, which was recorded on the band’s self-titled EP, sounds like it was written right along side the rest of the album’s tracks, significantly more fleshed out than its previous incarnation.

Touting songs which build upon one another like chapters in a great piece of literature, there is no better place to start with Neon Bible than at the beginning. The album really listens like a good book, and is definitely meant to be heard as one piece rather than a collection of singles. Win Butler and company have answered the call of music critics everywhere, and finally showed the world how a great new band can easily follow-up a highly decorated debut release; just make a better album.


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