The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

And whilst they're not the best band in the world (for the simple reason that there's no such thing) they are a fantastically good one and one that will soon have to make a very important decision – how big a band do they want to be?

The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

 

Wow. I bet they can't quite believe it – all the expectation, hype and adulation. And then, best of all, being interviewed by Paul Morley. Are they the best band in the word screamed the headline. The simple answer would be no, though I imagine Mr. Morley managed to spend several thousand words (in a witty and ironic and thoroughly post modern way of course) avoiding coming to a conclusion of any kind. And whilst they're not the best band in the world (for the simple reason that there's no such thing) they are a fantastically good one and one that will soon have to make a very important decision – how big a band do they want to be?

 

(Antichrist Television Blues) suggest that the choice is theirs. This song - the prime reason for the Bruce Springsteen references in reviews – leads one to suspect that the band could sell out stadiums if desired. It's the most straightforward track on the album – a foot-tapping, head-nodding fugging rock song that could be played on most radio channels without fear. But the song doesn't appear until two-thirds way through the album.

 

The album opens in a pretty restrained way with Black Mirror. An insistent beat propels the song and initially it seems almost underwhelming. Yes, the piano is there, the odd violin, but it seems quite a tame opening compared to Neighbourhood 1 (Tunnels). But listen hard and there is quite a bit going on – flourishes of woodwind, backward effects and then, after a couple of minutes, an explosion of sound as the orchestra kicks in and you remember exactly why their debut album proper was such an unalloyed joy. It's a rock song that's gothic and baroque and glorious without being bombastic and tacky over the top.

 

Keep The Car Running is a more straightforward proposition – a rocking good song backed by handclaps. Title track Neon Bible (a brief, catchy sing song) almost seems to exist to set the scene for Intervention – it opens with an incredibly grandiose organ sound that suggests the beginning of the apocalypse. An acoustic guitar and a xylophone take the edge off it before the song drums kick in and the song begins to rock. Strings, female backing and a central vocal performance pitched mid way between singing and shouting: in short, a classic Arcade Fire song. Not all of them can be, of course. There is something of a lacuna after Intervention. Black Wave / Bad Vibrations passes by pleasantly enough and it takes a while for Ocean of Noise to come to life (it eventually does so thanks to some Mariachi brass). The Well and the Lighthouse is enlivened by harp and on any other album would seem wonderful but because of the high standards The Arcade Fire have set for themselves it could almost be described as filler.

 

(Antichrist Television Blues) follows next and then we have Windowsill. A brooding beginning details a person railing against living in America under Bush. Which must have been fun for a bunch of Canadians to write. It's another example of the band writing black lyrics and yet managing to encase them in music that is both solemn and uplifting. It explains, in part, why their live shows are so loved. Rarely has such bleakness been delivered with such energy and verve. No Cars Go opens like a Hollywood soundtrack from the forties before turning into the Prefab Sprout song King of Rock and Roll. Well, it sounds quite a lot like it in parts. Officially the song is the kind of thing that the band does so well – guitars shimmer like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, but are glided by a catchy chorus, brass and collective shouting. The album closes with My Body is a Cage. A sombre song, with church organ, choir and sparse instrumentation, the song eventually explodes into life. Military drumming joins the choir and organ and the song again manages to be depressing and life affirming all at the same time.

 

How do they do it?

 

Words: Chris Dawson.