Filed by M. Trevor Higgins
Arcade Fire sets the tone for their second album with the first line of the first song. I walked down to the ocean/After waking form a nightmare/No moon no pale reflection/Black mirror Black Mirror.
Neon Bible was recorded in a church in Montreal and in that church Arcade Fire seemingly took a vow to remain dedicated and intense, for better or worse.
This is an album about impending darkness and a coming flood. The images are at every turn. From Black Wave/Bad Vibrations to Ocean of Noise. The church organ on Intervention is the musical equivalent of a choppy sea.
There is fear and worry and the band isn’t sure where to turn next. The windows are locked now, so what will it be/A house on fire or a rising sea? Win Butler sings on Windowsill.
Actually, Butler doesn’t sing so much as wail in desperation, and at times the songs seem to crack under their own weight. The war on terror hasn’t eased any of Butler’s concerns. In fact, the state of the world is worsened to where he earnestly claims Don’t wanna live in my father’s house no more/Don’t wanna fight in a holy war.
Neon Bible offers few solutions and little hope, but Arcade Fire is best when they let some light into the darkness. Keep the Car Running is focused and complete with instrumentation reminiscent of the Talking Heads. But it’s the faint hope that makes the track standout: They know my name cause I told it to them/But they don’t know where and they don’t know when.
In (Anticrist Television Blues) the protagonist’s aims may be selfish and shallow, but at least he is striving for an escape from frightful life in terror-filled downtown.
My Body is a Cage is an appropriate last note, full of more church organ. It starts in a slow march and then builds and fills and dominates to a climactic alter call as Butler sings Set my spirit free/Set my body free.
Does all of this make Arcade Fire the second coming? Maybe not, but Arcade Fire have now delivered two albums with great intensity and musical inventiveness. Neon Bible may not convert new believers, but it will surely energize the congregation.
Four stars out of five.
E-mail M. Trevor Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org.