Thursday, March 8, 2007

neon bible

Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's follow-up to their outstanding full-length debut, Funeral (2004), came out this week. I've only listened to it all the way through a couple of times, but it seems clear that the band has moved past the misfortunes that provided much of the grist for the barking art-indie-punk tracks that made Funeral so memorable. This album broadens its scope to include the state of the world at large, meditating on religion, war, evildoers, paranoia, and the media -- and the relationships between all of these. While not a concept album in the tradition of Radiohead's OK Computer (1997), the subject matter and emotional impact are similarly bleak.

There's a desperate earnestness to the lyrics ("Workin' for the church while your family dies" on the majesterial "Intervention") that might be embarrassing if not for the vulnerability behind Win Butler's delivery; each soaring chorus sounds as if he's choking back tears. From the hard-driving first single, "Keep the Car Running":
Every night my dream’s the same
Same old city with a different name
Men are coming to take me away
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay
Keep the car running
The band has seemingly used every instrument but the washboard on this recording, and their sound especially benefits from the monster pipe organ the band members found in their church-house recording facility just outside Montreal. The band also utilize a stand-up bass, keyboards, mandolin, violins, horns, and a harmonium, in addition to their standard guitar-bass-drums lineup. The production, by the band members themselves, is meticulous but not slick. What Neon Bible lacks in the explosive energy of Funeral, it manages to compensate for with great hooks, surprising instrumentation, and expansive bombast. I don't know if I'll ever love it as much as I love Funeral, but this is a very strong sophomore release, and it's certain to show up in a lot of end-of-the-year top ten lists. Believe the inevitable hype.

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