Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible (Merge)
Grade: A

Neon Bible is the most anticipated record of the year, at least in the context of indie-rock. As a result, I’ve been a bit anxious about writing this review. Funeral, The Arcade Fire’s debut album, was rapturously received by any critic with a pair of ears. Any acclaim hoisted upon this album by me will undoubtedly be perceived as nothing but more of the same old critical hype. As a group, the Arcade Fire needs that kind of hype like I need a hole in my head.

But with hype (warranted or unwarranted) comes backlash, which can be equally irrational. The end result of backlash usually involves the dismissal of a perfectly good album just because it doesn’t sound anything like its predecessor. If time is kind to Some Loud Thunder (which it shouldn’t, but I’m no psychic), then I will be guilty of that last offense.

Which brings us back to Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire’s second album. It deserves all of the acclaim that Funeral received. It's as simple as that. With this new album, the Arcade Fire have shifted their lyrical worldview from the personal to the political. However, the yearning, hopeful anxiety that characterizes the best of the band's work still remains. Musically speaking, it’s just not as upfront about it, as Funeral was. Neon Bible , as a whole, is more of a slow burn, with crescendos sneaking up on the unsuspecting listener to wonderous effect.

The album's title comes from a John Kennedy Toole novel about a man who recalls his ten strongest memories, all of which revolve around bigotry of many stripes (racial, political, sexual, etc). With this knowledge in mind, Neon Bible’s lyrics concerning falling bombs ("Black Mirror"), religious uncertainty ("Intervention"), and political confusion ("Windowsill") become even more immediate than they already are.

“Black Mirror”, Neon Bible ’s opening track, is a perfect example of that immediacy, with an ominous melody, cryptic, vaguely apocalyptic lyrics and a pulsating beat, all slowly building to an all-encompassing, magical orchestral climax (listen carefully for the oboe line). From there, the Arcade Fire makes like the Clash as fronted by Bruce Springsteen, augmented with hurdy-gurdy (the excellent “Keep The Car Running”), pipe organ (“Intervention,” a song that should make the Boss jealous of the band’s songwriting skills), military choir and a full Hungarian orchestra.

The result is an album that, at first, seems underwhelming, due to the implicit musical nature of some of the songs. But gradually, Neon Bible reveals itself to be as totally overwhelming and awe-inspiring as Funeral is. If you give Neon Bible time to grow on you, you will be rewarded with the satisfaction of listening to one of the best albums of the year.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Anonymous Andrea H. said...

John Kennedy O'Toole, isn't it? Glad to hear the album is good, though. Hearts from the Opinions desk.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

It is, in fact, John Kennedy Toole. I'm slowly, and not even surely, sadly, making my way through the book.

Hearts back to the Opinions desk. What's the Mess Asks question for this week?

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

something to do with scrotums

12:05 PM  

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