Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

April 5, 2007

The highly anticipated follow-up to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Neon Bible, is finally here and to be honest I think it does a damn good job as a second album from a band that really needed to prove they weren’t a complete fluke. And they sure could have been too, as hard as it is to say that. Funeral is a great album, but one had to wonder if what most considered to be a fantastic new indie band really had what it took to be memorable in the longrun. Neon Bible isn’t quite as good as Funeral, but it delivers on the level I think fans would want it to. If this band has anything, it’s confidence. One needs confidence to release an album in as fun of a package as this for a second album. The cover is a hologram and the liner notes consist of some nonsensical flipbooks. Whether or not Arcade Fire are cocky or over confident is besides the point when they have released two great albums, and if the hype seems to match the delivery there isn’t much of a problem. This isn’t exactly a new direction, as the songs have the same kind of glossy feel, but this time in a more melancholy setting. Naming their first album Funeral was already kind of ironic considering the album felt like a joyous birth ritual, and given the history this album probably could have been blown to unnecessary proportions. And yet the title track Neon Bible is the most underspoken song on the album. It’s a warm if not dark quiet tune featuring only a bass drum, a quietly strummed guitar, quiet cellos, and airy vocals. Lasting only a little more than two minutes and not changing too much, it’s an easy pin for filler, but it’s subtle catchiness is undeniable. But that’s pretty much the extent of unusual stuff going on with the album. For the most part Neon Bible is Arcade Fire doing what they did on Funeral with a few minor switchups in mood.

The first two songs, Black Mirror and Keep The Car Running, are among the albums best and take the same familiar approach of jangly romantic hooks dressed up in layers of highly produced backdrop instruments. But as the album progresses, a more melancholy approach is developed. So there is growth here, and it’s about exactly what you were expecting. Maybe no surprises, but this is the necessary step forward that the band should be taking. The fourth song Intervention starts out with a big creepy organ that quickly reassures another lovely pop tune. After this, Black Waves/Bad Vibrations transforms from a happy little tune to a sadder more dramatic serious piece. And then the following Ocean of Noise is a lounging downtempo sad song. The development of the album is pretty apparent but also strong. You can tell this is just as well planned out of an album as Funeral, not just a bunch of songs thrown together. The best track is easily No Cars Go, the finest example of what the album strives to do, make great pop music in a now more dramatic and tragic way. If you’d call it tragic. I have issues with the word tragic. Like, I use it too much, and I’m going to use it again a lot on the next review. But I can’t think of a better word than sad or tragic to describe this mood. It’s abrasive and not depressing, but the album is definitely more, uh, I don’t know, pensive.

This was the right move to make. It is the safe way out but it is also thankfully very interesting and worth getting into. Funeral and Neon Bible are both on opposite sides of the same coin, and Neon Bible completes the first leg of what will hopefully be a long musical journey successfully. Once again I wouldn’t quite say it is as fun to listen to as Funeral but in the end it is just as rewarding. The style has changed comfortably and no more. We still have a lot of strings blended into one another to make a really pretty atmosphere, and a great set of vocalists who write their lyrics very well. I think the album might be lightly themed on the topic of (obviously) religion, but I’m not quite sure what it is trying to say exactly. Everyone seems to agree that it’s a grower, and I have a nagging feeling that closer inspection will reveal some further rewards.

One comment

  1. You write well, I enjoyed reading this, even though I read many reviews of it.

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