How do the Arcade Fire follow-up not just one of the best debut albums ever, but possibly also one of the best indie albums of all time? Well, Neon Bible
is a good place to start. After the success of Funeral
, expectations were high for a follow up. But really, how could any band be expected to repeat that level of achievement twice in a row? And who can fault a band for setting their own standards so high? If there's one criticism of Neon Bible
(named after author John Kennedy Toole's first novel), it's that it's not Funeral
. But any other band would consider Neon Bible
a towering achievement, for the simple reason that it is. "Keep the Car Running" displays all of the trademarks of the Arcade Fire's best work, building to a crescendo by adding layers and layers of synths to a deceptively simple tune. "Intervention", meanwhile, is easily the biggest-sounding song they've yet recorded, exploding with pipe organ over strummed guitars, strings and a choir. Occasionally, lead singer Win Butler risks being lost behind all of this noise, particularly as his voice has lost some of the strained intensity that made Funeral
so affecting (and in fact, on "(Antichrist Television Blues)" he even sounds a bit like 80's-era Springsteen). But there's no denying that Neon Bible
is a stellar album, from a band worth discovering. --Ted Kord
It's an appropriate title; this album should convert the unbelievers. Meanwhile the 'Neon' part could be the Montreal-based band's own smart self-reference, because the neon stamp of the 1980s is all over this.
Before things get temporal though, it's worth clocking (hoho) the other themes that permeate this haunting, yet simultaneously uplifting, record.
The church is impossible to avoid and is often starkly juxtaposed with labour. On ''Intervention Frontman'' Win Butler sings about 'working for the church while your family dies' and on ''Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues)'' he claims to be 'a good Christian man' before stressing the importance of getting paid while actual church organs blare away. They're back again on morbid LP closer, ''My Body Is A Cage''.
Modern living is addressed with lines that provoke and occasionally amuse throughout. On ''Windowsill'' there is a knowing 'MTV/ what have you done to me?' - perhaps mocking those who mistakenly believe image to be more important than actual songs, or maybe just a dig at TV-rotted youth. Or how about ''Black Mirrors'' 'Shot by security camera/ you can watch your own image', suggesting the CCTV surveillance we all take for granted? None of these lines are overt in meaning but this music ain't about answers handed to you on a plate.
Which brings us back to the 80s. This album will remind all those long enough in the tooth or iTunes account of Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, Kate Bush and Echo and The Bunnymen.
''Keep The Car Running'' is the greatest tune 'Heads front-weirdo, David Byrne, never sang on and sounds as huge as new galaxies exploding into life. Springsteen is evoked on the noughties blue-collar anthem of ''Antichrist!'', arguably the album highlight and the Echo influence is most keenly felt on opener ''Black Mirror'', which is driven by the most menacing piano riff and string section heard in pop in recent memory. Elsewhere ''Black Wave'''s jerky synths and unsteady beats recall the enigmatic Ms Bush to thrilling effect.
Some will doubtless complain that, like it's predecessor, it's a bit too serious for its own good or that it does too much with its endless array of mandolins, galloping drums, organs, strings and synths. But these are quibbles. Neon Bible is a staggering album that only the staunchest sonic agnostic could live without. Praise be. --Lou Thomas
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