on 8 March 2007
Ever since The Arcade Fire released the rather brilliant 'Funeral', I have been looking forward immensely to their follow-up. However, with the dizzy heights that 'Funeral' managed to reach, was 'Neon Bible' going to live up to the expectations?
The answer is a resounding yes.
It opens with 'Black Mirror', a rather mysterious, dark opener. Win Butler's vocals are slightly improved on what was heard on 'Funeral', and this album echoes David Bowie on occasions. An excellent opener, mixing English and occasional French dialects. 9/10.
Track two, 'Keep The Car Running', combines strings with acoustic guitars, and has a bit of a rock-and-roll feel about it. This track might well be a future release- it might be already. Astonishingly, it isn't the best track on the album, such is the quality and diversity that the Arcade Fire show here. Nevertheless, a solid 9/10.
Track three, 'Neon Bible', is slow, laboured, and dark. At only just over two minutes long, it isn't really filler, it's just a sign of things to come. The lyrics are deep and dark. 'Not much chance for survival if the Neon Bible is right', Butler almost whispers. 8/10.
Track four, 'Intervention', is outstanding. The pipe-organs, acoustic guitar and strings combine beautifully, and gives the song a really epic and grand feel. 'There are some debts you'll never pay....You're working for the church while your family dies,' Butler moans. A dark theme, gripping lyrics and brilliant music. One of the standout tracks. 10/10.
Track five, 'Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations' is sung by Renee Chassagne to begin with, in French and English. A more grungy number, but with melodic parts in it as well. It keeps the dark, melancholy feel at the same time, and at the time Butler comes in to sing, the song is given a more anthemic feel with the soaring guitars and the soft, subtle choir in the background. Musically, this song, in fact the whole album, is a revelation. 10/10.
Track six, 'Ocean Of Noise', begins with a bass guitar, soft drums, and a piano. The odd rumble of thunder is heard in the background. The song builds up gradually on a crescendo, and reaches an anthemic point towards the end with strings and brass instruments playing their part. Brilliant. 9/10.
Track seven, 'The Well And The Lighthouse', is a more up-tempo number, and has a slightly rockier feel to it. Again, the Arcade Fire adapt an anthemic stance in their music and it works to their advantage. A mixture of strings, guitars, drums, vocals and a glockenspiel (I think), and it really creates a wonderful sound. The song slows down about halfway through, but it doesn't affect the quality of the music at all. Superb. 9/10.
Track eight, '(Antichrist Television Blues)', is an acoustic number to begin with. I think the song might be referring to the 9/11 disaster, because if you listen to the lyrics carefully, Win Butler sings 'Don't wanna work in a building downtown, the planes keep on crashing two by two'- it might well be something to do with the tragedy over 5 years ago. Lyrically, this song and this album on the whole is exemplary. This song also echoes some sentiments of early Bruce Springsteen. Win Butler wails towards the end 'Tell me Lord, am I the Antichrist?' Brilliant song. 10/10.
Track nine, 'Windowsill', is also an acoustic number, until about three minutes into the song. The music is expanded out, with strings, horns, and pianos in addition to the guitars and vocals. A rather simple song but the final minute or so makes it sound a better song towards the end. 8/10.
Track ten, 'No Cars Go', in my opinion, is the best song on the album. A mixture of guitars, strings, accordion, horns, and vocals give this song superior substance to most of anything else previously heard on this album so far. It has all the makings of a brilliant Arcade Fire anthem, with its punchy 'Hey!' chants and soaring riffs. Six minutes go by so easily. Maybe this could be Ken Livingstone's song to London commuters about the congestion charge. People might actually start listening to him then. But on a more serious note, this is a great anthem, especially when Butler sings 'Women and children, let's go!', and so on. And when the 'oh's come in soon after, it makes for a really grand finish and one of Arcade Fire's greatest tracks so far. A definite 10/10.
Track eleven, and the final track, 'My Body Is A Cage', is a slightly creepy, eerie, and mysterious track. Maybe it makes a full circle back to the theme of the opener, 'Black Mirror'. Butler's vocals are only accompanied by the pipe organs to begin with. The choir comes in soon after, to give it a more eerie feel. Put it this way: this is a song you would not want to hear alone in a graveyard at night. It sends a tingle down my spine when I hear it sometimes, I don't know if it's just me but it's just so downright dark and eerie. With a minute or so to go, Butler sings 'Send my spirit free...send my body free' to a building crescendo of wailing pipe organs....and it comes to a close. Superb. 10/10.
So, what do I make of the 'Neon Bible'?
I think it's a superb follow-up to 'Funeral'. Whereas the debut was dark in its lyrics, most of the music was quite light and upbeat. Here, the music is eerier, darker and more mysterious. Tracks like 'Black Mirror', 'Intervention', 'Ocean Of Noise', '(Antichrist Television Blues)', and 'My Body Is A Cage' epitomise the meaning of true mystery and darkness. That doesn't mean that it's a bad thing. It's melancholy...it's dark, but it's very good music, and that's what makes for such good listening. The lyrics are so much better and more meaningful here than on 'Funeral', but it isn't quite as good as the debut.
So overall, an outstanding follow-up, and although not as good as its predecessor, it's miles ahead of most bands out there. Highly recommended. Album of 2007 so far, without a doubt.