Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Neon Bible, another view

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible (Merge)
Grade: A

You'd be forgiven for skipping over this review. Since you made your way to this page in the first place, you probably know everything about Arcade Fire and their new album. You probably read Jon's review below. You know the band just played (and unnecessarily smashed a guitar) on Saturday Night Live, you know you'll never see them live, because they only play churches, and you're not famous enough to get in. Sorry.

What I can offer is a personal perspective on the band, since their full-length debut Funeral came out the year my dad died. I got it as a birthday present four months after his death, and it took a while for me to understand what the record gets at: death sucks, death isolates you, but death also, absurdly, provides hope. It makes sense that "Wake Up" is Funeral's most popular track, as it encapsulates the album's magic as a whole: it details the pain of death ("Something/filled up/my heart/with nothing") but gives inspiration ("With my lightning bolts a-glowin'/I can see where I am going"). That's what I needed in 2004. People telling me "it's okay" after my dad died made me angry; the fact that beauty still exists in the wake of destruction comforted me. It's not okay. But it's the way life is, and look how amazing it all is.

Not to get all Natalie Portman on you - what Arcade Fire means to you is your business - but their first record proved to me that music can heal. I wondered if this experience would hinder my love for their follow-up, but Neon Bible, a record less focused on hope than the power of desperation, is undisputedly great. You know a first track with the lyrics "The curse is never broken" won't exactly lead to a record of sunshine, and Neon Bible is indeed bleaker than its predecessor. It's also more universal in scope; these aren't family stories, but worries about personal survival in the wake of general catastrophe.

Arcade Fire gets compared to U2 pretty often, but there's a big difference between the two bands: sincerity. Both U2 and Arcade Fire have a broad scope and a "we must succeed in our quest" sound, but while Arcade Fire is selling emotion, U2 sounds like they are selling shoes. Arcade Fire hasn't dropped that intimate sincerity, despite widening their canvas. Amazing songs like "Keep The Car Running" and "Intervention" will remind you why you loved them so much in the first place, and while the other songs won't grab you immediately, they'll grow on you fast. The album also features "No Cars Go," which was featured on their debut EP, and sounds more natural and comfortable in this more cinematic setting.

Neon Bible is no Funeral, but I doubt Arcade Fire will ever top that record. Instead, it's a fantastically solid effort from a band who pays attention to every large and small detail - a Hungarian choir, a well-placed glockenspiel - until it sounds right. I'm relieved to find that their mixture of pain and hope still works on me, and fortunately, I'm still a sucker for the formula.
(David Brusie)

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Blogger Jon said...

"Both U2 and Arcade Fire have a broad scope and a 'we must succeed in our quest' sound, but while Arcade Fire is selling emotion, U2 sounds like they are selling shoes."

Best. Sentence. Ever.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

I second that.

12:04 PM  
Blogger MPLSFR said...

major lolz

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

a friend of mine said to me that every AF song sounds like "sunday bloody sunday" but just reordered. thoughts?

12:19 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ian, I could kind of understand that, but it's generalizing a lot. They've got ballads, too, but more importantly, they have some amazing melodies that outshine their (awesome) arrangements. I was never crazy about "Sunday Bloody Sunday," personally - give me "I Will Follow" anyday.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous ian said...

i actually saw U2 once. haha. Bono had a big stage shaped like aheart that went into the crowd. man, I want a heart-shaped stage.

12:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

Ian, I'll get you one for your birthday.

I'm not totally anti-U2 or anything; I really like Achtung Baby. I guess I just don't buy it with their new stuff, you know?

I have the weirdest urge to go buy a pair of Nikes....

12:51 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

"a friend of mine said to me that every AF song sounds like 'sunday bloody sunday' but just reordered. thoughts?"

Ian, I'd hate to break it to you, but your friend is on crack. Please get him/her to rehab immediately.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday"? Really?

1:04 PM  
Anonymous ian said...

seriously? crack? oh no

1:32 PM  
Anonymous April said...

U2 hasn't put out anything good in 14ish years. Does that mean I won't buy the next record? No.

I think Arcade Fire and U2 share similar scope, yeah, but I don't think that Arcade Fire is going to become and ego band. I can kind of hear the "Sunday Bloody Sunday" thing, but I think Arcade Fire actually, you know, means it.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous april said...

By the way, David. I just checked out your version of So Cruel. That's pretty tight!

3:57 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hah, thanks April! That IS a U2 song I really, really like.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous ian said...

this is the longest comment thread ever, and it is all by writers for this blog. i love it.

4:48 PM  
Blogger David said...

Inside baseball inside baseball inside baseball inside baseball

6:20 PM  

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