Arcade Fire – [Album]

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Let’s just start this straight off. The Arcade Fire’s latest, Neon Bible, isn’t as good as Funeral. Tear-jerking crescendos are much fewer and farther between. The hair on the back of your neck won’t get quite as much of a workout. But consider what they are up against—a debut album as critically and commercially adored as Funeral—and realize that’s a pretty tough hand to beat. So past achievements aside, how does Neon Bible stack up against its musical peers, both current and those falling under the header of sophomore offerings? Pretty damn well, I say, pretty damn well.

Somehow, someway, Neon Bible accomplishes the amazing feat of being darker than its predecessor. Doubt me? Then listen to some of the bleak bon mots Win Butler tosses around: Shot by a security camera/You can’t watch your own image, from “Black Mirror;” There’s a fear I keep so deep./Knew its name before I could speak, from “Keep the Car Running;” or the line that continues to give me chills, Working for the church while your life falls apart./Been singing Hallelujah with the fear in your heart, in the final verse of the first single, “Intervention,” but maybe that’s just the church kid in me. In addition to those three, tracks like “The Well and the Lighthouse,” “Windowsill” and the particularly kick-ass revamp of “No Cars Go” (originally on the Arcade Fire EP) carry the album well.

So why isn’t it great, but merely good? Because, my friend, every good track is offset by a particularly bad one. “Neon Bible” stumbles along, with the passable lyrics shackled to what could only be described as a boring, muddy melody. “Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues)” sounds like a mediocre Springsteen rip-off, and “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” is two unfinished ideas crammed together, and in the wrong order to boot – get through the first half of the song, and the second sounds much more promising.

In the end, the good still outweighs the bad. On third or fourth listen the album begins to open up and might start to grow on the listener, but initially a lot of the load is being pulled along by “Intervention.” And that third or fourth listen only happens because the band’s name happens to be Arcade Fire.

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