Umm, where to start with this review? It seems as if everything that can be written about this band and this album has been written. So I guess, I’ll just concentrate on one aspect… is this album better than their previous effort, Funeral? The answer to that is yes and no and depends on what you mean by “better”. The album was recorded in a Church in Quebec that the band bought and converted into a studio space. It is no wonder then that these tracks have an epic, almost religious quality to them.
The album opens with ‘Black Mirror’ and a building crescendo of white noise which gives the song an almost apocalyptic feel to it. From there we have perhaps the best ‘pop’ song that Arcade Fire have produced, ‘Keep the Car Running’. Mixing elements of Springsteen and U2, it sounds folky, poppy, rocky and lyrically interesting all at the same time. The song is driven by piano and god knows what instrument (is it a mandolin of some sort? With these guys you can never be sure what weird instruments they’ll pull out of the bag). The song was their opener on the two nights I caught them in Brixton and works well in this sense – it really gets you going and in many ways announces the start of the album proper.
Where Funeral had songs inspired by personal grief and emotional pain, here on Neon Bible the feelings are more universal. It is far less introspective than their debut and more about the difficulties of growing up in the 21st century. In many respects this is best represented by the next track of the album, its namesake, ‘Neon Bible’ where Win Butler echoes the words, “not much chance for survival with the Neon Bible” which sounds far more majestic on record than merely writing the words on paper.
‘Intervention’ is the song which made my mouth salivate when I heard it all those months ago. The song is driven by what sounds like a massive church organ and is quite simply majestic. The song builds with Butler’s whimpering vocals becoming more and more confident as the song progresses to become a booming voice of unease towards the end. This makes the listener feel a sense of relief and a burning desire to shout along to the lyrics – be careful not to get too carried away listening to this on your iPod on the way into work – people will think that you are weird.
Other standout tracks include, ‘The Well and the Lighthouse’ which perhaps most resembles their songs on Funeral. While ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ sees the ‘Fire create a song which best encapsulates the more universal feelings on display on this album. ‘No Cars Go’ sees a live favourite and a song from their debut EP, being taken back in by the band and re-recorded. It sounds better than its previous incarnations and is one of the standout tracks on the album.
So, returning to my original question posed in the introduction to this review. This album manages to universalise the feelings on display on Funeral. Less introspective and personal, the emotions and inspirations reveal a more mature album. It is an album that will divide fans – some may find it too different (predominately on a lyrical basis) to Funeral and may see it as the band selling out. However, Neon Bible will win the band many new fans on the way.
What we have here is the makings of the world’s largest small band brilliantly avoiding the pitfalls of the second difficult album and producing a monumental work which manages to encompass their past and push on in a new direction while always remaining true to the band’s roots and principles. Well done Arcade Fire on producing a record which can easily hold its head high against their fantastic debut.