Friday, March 2, 2007

Album Review- Neon Bible

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible

Everyone needs a religion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the world around you. People worship things; television, designer jeans, Starbucks. It’s not enough to simply have access to these things, we must also instill magic into these objects as well. People actually believe that name brand jeans will make them look better. Anything broadcast on television is perceived as fact. It’s on TV, of course it’s ture….right?

Arcade Fire’s debut album Funeral was my religion. I listened to it endlessly and studied it like a textbook. It became a living, breathing entity occupying its own space inside of me. By the time I had fallen completely in love, it was hard to tell if it was simply a one-night stand style fling that I had let move into my apartment, or the real deal. Ultimately, I realized that regardless of how Funeral had managed to become my religion, it would be impossible to ignore the impact it made on me and the entire independent music scene. Needless to say, I was scared shitless to listen to Neon Bible. With Funeral ranking as an instant classic amongst my favorite records of all time, my thoughts ran rampant with skepticism. In my mind, they were bound to fail.

I almost feel ashamed now for second-guessing them. It’s a good thing Arcade Fire never gave in to pressure. As far as follow-ups are concerned, Neon Bible is near perfect. No Kid A style anti-success tactics, no Funeral part II, no sophomore slump in sight. Neon Bible is still Arcade Fire on their own terms. The one thing they may have picked up on their road to success was more of a sense of purpose. It’s not that it didn’t exist before, but it becomes something entirely different when you realize that everyone’s watching. You tend to make it more meaningful.

Regardless if you catch the message with your ears, you’re going to feel it in you bones. The band has an uncanny ability to inspire through the raw energy of the music. Win Butler shouts like his and our lives depend on it. He’s letting us know that the stakes are high; ignoring the signs will leave us doomed to a life of ignorance. They’ve also mastered the art of drama while remaining sincere at the same time. “Intervention” is a perfect example. It opens with a “Phantom of the Opera” style church organ before being humbled by acoustic guitar and xylophone. By the time the orchestra comes in, you can literally feel something building inside. By the end of the song, you will probably get chills. Its sense of purpose is palpable.

“Black Waves/Bad Vibrations” starts off unlike anything the band has done before. The music bleeds into one wash of sound with guitars and violin stabs sneaking in and out of the mix. Somewhere in the distance, robotic Kraftwerk style backing vocals can be heard. It’s the only song to feature Regine, half of the core songwriters of the group, singing on her own. It would only have stood as an interesting experiment, had Regine not opened up the second half of the song for Win to carry out. Suddenly, the wash of sound slows into a wall of crashing guitars. “Stop now before it’s too late/Been eating in the ghetto on a hundred dollar plate/Nothing last forever that’s the way it’s gotta be/There’s a great black wave in the middle of the sea for me.” It sounds like a glorious version of the end of days. Our souls are plucked by angels and carried into the sea, while our spirits wander, watching in the distance.

After the storm of “Black Waves…” comes “Ocean of Noise”. Icy guitar lines gently pierce the air over a distant grand piano. Just when you thought the end was inevitable, they throw a heart-breaking curveball of an outro in which Win sings “Gonna work it out for you” over a flood of strings. It’s another of many genuinely inspiring moments.

“(Antichrist Television Blues)” is an acoustic rally cry that channels Bruce Springsteen in his prime. “Now I’m overcome by the light of day/My lips are near but my heart is far away/Now the war is won/How come nothing taste good?” he asks before the song reaches a climactic wordless chorus driven by handclaps and junkyard percussion. The song is rumored to be about Jessica and Ashlee Simpson’s father and manager Joe Simpson. Lines like “Wanna hold a mirror up to the world so that they can see themselves inside my baby girl” could be evidence. Whatever the case may be, Win tells the tale of a working class father living vicariously through is daughter. The end of the song comes to a screeching halt just as Win yells, “Tell me lord, am I the Antichrist?” It’s heavy stuff, but it’s narrated so well you can’t help but allow yourself to be weighed down.

The album ends with most dramatic piece “My Body Is a Cage” giving merit to the goth-rock tag. It uses the same church organ from “Intervention”, but this time there’s nothing to balance the theatricality. It’s a full-on explosion of strings, horns, and angelic choir. “Set my body free/Set my spirit free,” Win pleads. The end has finally come, but the battle seems to have taken place within. Their claim that “The powers out in the heart of man/Take it from your heart, put it in your hand” has come full circle.

What would most bands do when given the sort of implied “magic” Arcade Fire have amassed over the few years of their existence? Most would cripple under the pressure, some would simply avoid the responsibility altogether, and few would come out triumphant. Neon Bible finds the band embracing their imposed responsibility and, in return, delivering another classic album ready to be praised and worshiped. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new religion.

Download >>Intervention

Download >>(Antichrist Television Blues)

1 comment:

Scott Shiba said...

"Funeral" was my religion too! I have to check this album out ASAP. I totally forgot that it came out. Shame on me.