A More Consistent Form of Brilliance

Mar 6, 2007 (Updated Mar 6, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Read the review. Not to be demanding. But do it.

Cons:Neon Bible. The song. Not the whole album. I actually like the album.

The Bottom Line: Not as immediate as Funeral but with time perhaps just as good.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find many albums this year that are met with the same unwavering anticipation and excitement as the Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible”. The unabashedly emotive critical darlings from Montreal combined grandiose orchestral arrangements with a penchant for liberating melodies on their debut album, “Funeral”, and were appropriately hailed for its excellence. Consequently, the loyal legions of fans that fell in love with “Funeral” have been eagerly waiting to see what direction singer/guitarist Win Butler and crew would move on their sophomore effort.

For the most part, “Neon Bible” makes a conscious decision to differentiate itself from its predecessor; both artistically and lyrically. To the quintet’s credit, “Neon Bible” does an excellent job of resisting the temptation to come across as Funeral Part Two while still maintaining the group’s finer assets.

Musically, although the overall aesthetic of the Arcade Fire—eclectic instrumentation and poignant beauty—is kept in tact, several noticeable difference are evident. Perhaps most strikingly, songs no longer apex with quite the same unbridled exhilaration as they would have on “Funeral”. Instead, these tracks adhere to an unrelenting, steady sense of urgency, constantly fueled by subtle additions.

For example, opener and lead single, “Black Mirror”, pounds along with ominous piano, staggering the song structure enough that the tune never becomes dull. To the contrary, “Black Mirror” eventually crescendos in a flurry of sweeping strings and supplemental vocals from Regine Chassagne (wife to Butler) that, in time, become every bit as euphoric as the more immediately accessible moments of “Funeral”.

Likewise, “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations”, which features a split in vocals between the married tandem, and the organ stimulated romp “Intervention” manage to capture their own outstanding moments despite the inherent stable construction.

Although neither of the songs threaten to strain over the edge and collapse in a fit of unadulterated glory, they both chug along at a steady pace, all the while consistently conjuring up their own moments of adulation shining through the darkness.

One explanation for this common sinister feel would be the band’s attempt to encapsulate the general mood of a frightened culture trapped in an age of impending dystopia (or so Butler would have us believe). Fortunately, the most triumphant moments found on “Neon Bible,” such as the gospel choir infused eruption to close “No Cars Go”, turn this overwhelming fear on its head and remind us that hope is always out there.

Lyrically, Butler’s focus has turned from the introspective personal turmoil of “Funeral” to mesh with the global fear found in the music. In short, Butler concentrates a more politically charged assault on some major social issues at work in the world today.

Without a doubt, the most prominent of the subjects tackled is religion. In my opinion, the five minute plus “(Antichrist Television Blues)” does the best job of tackling the issue of hypocrisy in Christianity, telling the tale of a Christian father manipulating his child for his own ends.

Overall, I think it’s safe to say “Neon Bible” strives for, and primarily succeeds, in achieving a very consistent form of brilliance. Granted, the title track is an utter dud if taken out of context with the rest of the album, and the unrestricted emotion prominent throughout could easily be mistaken for laughable pretensions. Still, as a complete album “Neon Bible” is a resounding statement that the Arcade Fire are in fact for real. Don’t let the opportunity to enjoy their music pass you by.

Song Rating Scale

***= Excellent
**= Decent
*= Poor

1. Black Mirror- ***
2. No Cars Go- ***
3. Neon Bible- *
4. Intervention- ***
5. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations- **
6. Ocean of Noise- **
7. The Well and the Lighthouse- ***
8. (Antichrist Television Blues)- **
9. Windowsill- **
10. No Cars Go- ***
11. My Body is a Cage- **

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