Monday, March 5, 2007

Recommended Album of the Week: Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Two Montreal bands in a row to inaugurate the recommended albums, who woulda thunk it. Actually, the Arcade Fire are sort of Montreal by way of, well, wherever. Isn't Win from Texas or something originally? Well, regardless of where the band is from, the album is good. Damn good. Which, of course, makes me look like a fool after writing about how the new songs weren't so hot.

I still stand by that previous post though. Neon Bible is not an album packed full of potential hit singles, and hearing "Black Mirror", "Intervention", and "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" out of the context of the entire album did nothing to excite me. Honestly, the full album leaking was probably the best thing that could have happened, because when it did the fans who were really unsure of what to make of the new songs, myself especially, were given the chance to hear them in context and understand that this album is truly an album, even more so than Funeral I think.

Let me be clear, however, that by saying that I in no way mean that Neon Bible is a better album than Funeral, that would be false. I just think that Funeral actually had several potential singles on it. Or, better yet, if you were to introduce Funeral to a friend that had never heard the album before but could only choose one song to represent it, you could probably pick just one. You and I might not pick the same one, but we could, that's all I'm saying. I don't think its that easy with Neon Bible. "The Well and the Lighthouse", maybe my favorite song on the album, does not fairly represent "Ocean of Noise" or "My Body is a Cage", and "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" in my opinion, does not represent anything on the album fairly.

If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering why I like the album so much. Honestly, its hard to say. Win's lyrics are more paranoid, his voice less like Smith, Byrne or Bowie and more like Springsteen, an artist I could never get into that much. Also, the lack of the hit single, or for a better term, anthem, really forces the listener to be patient, especially if the listener is expecting something more akin to Funeral.

Still, I like the paranoid lyrics. I like that Win is voicing his struggles with Christianity. I like that Win is attempting to hold the mirror up to society and expose us of some of our faults. I like that there are no real anthems on the album. I like that this is not Funeral part 2. I like that they took a chance on a darker sound. I like that Win has, more or less, become the "voice" of the band. Yes, Regine is the better vocalist, but she's still there chiming in, and believe me you take notice when she does (see "Antichrist Television Blues" for the best example).

Sure, you could knock the band for preaching to the choir with their lyrics, or that they aren't entirely original, and that the Arcade Fire are just another in a long line of bands/artists writing songs about their struggles with religion, society, the government, America, an unjust war, etc, and you would be 100% right, but they certainly won't be the last either, so why not let them have their say? Besides, its not as if songs about the lost lives of loved ones, growing up in and hating the suburbs, love, longing, and so forth, are exactly original either, yet we all went apeshit over Funeral and the first EP, didn't we?

To paraphrase something I read in an issue of Filter Magazine a few years back in reference to another band, if Neon Bible sounds like a disappointment, perhaps it is not because of any qualities that it is lacking, but because their debut album was so fantastic that the bar was set too high.

"Keep the Car Running" comes close to the full band singalong we're used to hearing from the Arcade Fire. "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" starts with Regine singing lead, the only song on the album to do so. Soon the song ends up sounding like the bands take on a Go-Go's tune (which might make for a strange mash up with "We Got the Beat"...) before it settles into a slower groove courtesy of a xylophone twinkle, and then BAM!, Armageddon's on its way, and Win's begging, pleading for her to "stop now before its too late.../there's a great black wave in the middle of the sea" over the gnarliest detuned guitar line I've heard in a while.

"Ocean of Noise" meanwhile, is possibly the most mature song the Arcade Fire have written. The song drifts along nicely and employs are more subtle progression from verse to verse than they probably would have previously. Still, they can only restrain themselves for so long, so be prepared for the grandiose ending that keeps rising, its crescendo lifted just a tad more by a horn section. "Antichrist Television Blues", the album's biggest offender of sounding like Springsteen, at least does the Boss justice in its apparent homage, and in my opinion Regine's freakout at the end might be worth the price of buying the album alone. "No Cars Go" sounds much better in this updated version, though I'll admit some of the charm is gone, and the lyrics are a little corny and don't appear to fit any of the album's themes. Finally, there's "My Body is a Cage". If the album were a movie then this song must be the end credit theme. When the church organs kick in, I envision a screen going to black. This song is an epic ending to a great album.

If I were reviewing this for Pitchfork, I would rate it an 8.7 out of 10, a full point below the rating for Funeral, and I think that's pretty fair. However, the more I listen to this album the more I like it. This album defines the term "grower", but that's a good thing because I continuously keep going back to it, which is something I can't say about too many albums any more. Turn it on, turn it up (loud), take it on a drive, whatever. Trust me, it will come

1 comment:

Panin said...

I'm afraid that I must disagree with you on some basic points. I see Funeral and Neon Bible, essentially, as equals, but separate. You've been very keen on pointing out that this album does not do what the previous album does, and I would rate this as the album's major strength. That said, I would say that either "Intervention" "Black Mirror" or "Keep the Car Running" could all be used as stand alone tracks to at least convey a sense of what's in store of the rest of the piece.

And this is important, because as the album does work as one thematic whole, there should be a song that can be given as as example that can convey that theme. Now, while I would believe that each of these songs does an excellent job projecting the sense of dread, misery, and despair, that permeates this album, I would merely say that of all these songs, the three mentioned would feel the most like complete stand alone pieces(What we might be tempted to refer to as 'singles').

You are absolutely right, though, that this album is a 'grower'. I wasn't terribly impressed with the piece all that much on first listen, however, the album is more a meditation than a collection of songs, and as each sound is absorbed deeper and deeper into the bloodstream of the consciousness, more and more meaning will become apparent.

It doesn't hurt that they include all they lyrics in the book, either, though.