Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Dan Round 05/03/2007

Rating: 5/5

On its 2005 release, “Funeral” propelled this collective of Texan/Canadian buskers into the limelight. The record was well received; it shifted tonnes of copies worldwide, and became critically acclaimed. It was then, obviously a hard album to follow especially in a time where 'new hype' is everything. With “Neon Bible”, however, Arcade Fire have not only matched their debut's successes, they have creatively surpassed it in blistering fashion.

Although not a concept record, “Neon Bible” could be perceived as one, with the songs collectively tackling 'big' subjects. While not intently politicised, it is very much a global record, and as singer Win Butler recently claimed “the record is about the way culture and religion intersect.” So, while “Black Mirror” is a rallying cry against mass media and TV's growing reality-popstar cult/shit, “Intervention” is Butler's questioning of faith in modern times. Despite the deep lyrical content - nothing about wearing jeans and going to a disco here - the album is shockingly instant. “Neon Bible” contains more clear melody than its predecessor, matched alongside its themes of global catastrophe.

“Neon Bible” also stretches the band's musical limits; “Keep The Car Running” has Gaelic sounding folksy twangs; “Black Waves/Bad Vibrations” is retro with erratic keys; and “No Cars Go” is their most sweeping, gorgeous arrangement of orchestration yet. This time round, they have really explored the most unpredictable forms of music. Having said that, they haven't just surrendered their 'classic Arcade Fire' sound - listen closely and you will discover “Black Mirror” is “Rebellion (Lies)” played harsher, and in a different key. Throughout the album, amongst their new-fangled experimentations, the Fire's key underrated ingredient still remains - Régine Chassagne's beautiful backing vocals reminisce of their debut, and provide the best possible partner to Butler's distinctive lead vocals.

While perhaps “Funeral's" only flaw was that it cooled off towards the end, “Neon Bible” only gets better. “The Well And The Lighthouse” is classic Velvet Underground in sound, for example, and nothing like they have ever attempted before. “Windowsill” builds-up from a downbeat acoustic lament into a song of grandeur with the confession “I don't wanna live in America no more”, and the chilling line “World War III/when are you coming for me?”. In “(Antichrist Television Blues)”, Butler and his acoustic guitar rattle along like Dylan in “Blood On The Tracks” era with panicked lyrics (“I'm a god fearing man”) and gentle backing instruments. The closing “My Body Is A Cage” is a 30s blues chant overlapped by sublime sounding church organs (more religion for you there) and despairing lyrics by Butler. Concluding spectacularly, the haunting vocals collide with the organs and strings, putting an end to a majestic album. As it does end, you would be advised to take a breath and pause, allowing yourself to take in what you have just heard.

Set to wonderful, perfectly crafted instrumentation, “Neon Bible” is an ecstatic listen and a classic-in-waiting. Deep, moving, damning, bloody and affecting, it has all the right ingredients to be hailed in such a manor. Arcade Fire are a band to believe, cherish and hold on to, and this is the proof.

Release date: 05/03/07