Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

Released amidst the most critical acclaim of any album so far this year, the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible merits all the publicity, and is hands-down as good as they say it is. 11 tracks of pure symphonic bliss tinged with heavy religious imagery and dark melodies, this sophomore release is sure to catapult Arcade Fire into superstardom. With the husband-wife team of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne behind the wheel, these seven musicians from Montreal formed in 2003, and after releasing a self-titled EP, debuted indie-rock gem Funeral in 2004. Funeral is an album born out of introspection and depression, soaked in glockenspiel and strings. (One of the most amazing aspects of this band is their multi-instrumental talent, from ALL types of strings to horns.)

Instead of focusing on pain and heartbreak with Neon Bible, the themes center more on the world around them, turning the “Black Mirror” (mirror mirror on the wall // show me where them bombs will fall) and “Neon Bible” into tools for foretelling dark visions of the future: A vial of hope and a vial of pain // in the light they both looked the same // poured them out on into the world // on every boy and every girl.

Addressing a gamut of issues from government to the ugly side of human nature, Neon Bible is weighty, dark, militaristic and gothic … yet accessible. “Intervention” is intense and church-like (dare it be said, a strong Pink Floyd influence?) with an organ brooding under Butler’s voice that crescendos into the final chorus: “Working for the Church while your life falls apart // singin’ hallelujah with the fear in your heart // every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.”

While comparisons to other musicians can be made, Arcade Fire has a sound all their own. The second track, “Keep the Car Running” is said to have been ghostwritten by Bruce Springsteen himself and his influence is evident. “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” has Chassagne putting on her best 80s hat, sounding like a dark version of the Go-Go’s and  “Ocean of Noise” sounds a bit U2-ish, floating along with a piano and amalgamation of strings. “(Antichrist Television Blues)” revisits Springsteen’s trademark sound and the killer track “No Cars Go” was swiped from their old EP and could have ended the album nicely, but “My Body is a Cage” rounds out the effort and sounds like an organ on a crash course with the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Written and produced by the band themselves, Neon Bible is excellent and cohesive. The depth and talent of this band deserves all the success that is sure to come their way following the release of this album, and while the fortunes of the Neon Bible look bleak at times, the future is looking rosy for Arcade Fire.

(Merge Records)