Youll be hard-pressed to find many albums this year that are met with the same unwavering anticipation and excitement as the Arcade Fires 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 quintets credit, Neon Bible does an excellent job of resisting the temptation to come across as Funeral Part Two while still maintaining the groups finer assets.
Musically, although the overall aesthetic of the Arcade Fireeclectic instrumentation and poignant beautyis 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 bands 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, Butlers 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 its 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. Dont let the opportunity to enjoy their music pass you by.
Song Rating Scale
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- **