The Arcade Fire Neon Bible

[Merge; 2007]

Styles: driving, gang-banging rock ‘n’ roll
Others: The Hidden Cameras, Echo And The Bunnymen, Modern English

It pains me to be the umpteenth writer/critic to say this, but things get out of hand in the music world fairly quickly these days. It's not that the bands hoisted up by the MPMe generation aren't quality. It's more that once the hype for a band reaches a certain point it's not about the music anymore. As you see the uniformly favorable reviews and same publicity photo used over and over and over, you realize nobody's even listened to the record lately. When you take it upon yourself to check it out, you hear one magnificent song, a couple of decent space-pluggers, and a gaggle of grit-less retreads.

That's essentially what Funeral is. To be kind, it's a decent album with one fantastic, original song (yes, it's "Neighborhood #1: Tunnels") and a patchwork litany of derivative -- albeit not altogether unpleasing -- shit. There's that Talking Heads song, that Polyphonic Spree song, and so forth. Identity? None to speak of once you get past the first song. Cohesion? More bulges and scrunches than a python's torso after it swallowed the Robinson family. Greatness? You've got to be kidding...

But while many of us were muffling our laughter, The Arcade Fire became Thee Go-To indie band. They had it all: a stomping, crowded live show, a believable storyline surrounding their debut record, a massive bidding war to pre-empt Funeral's release... As Cusack relates in High Fidelity, "You couldn't miss them." In the process, several other bands from their homeland -- some worthy, some not -- joined their brethren on the front pages of blogs wide and far. And, unlike, say, Interpol, Arcade Fire, because they plundered multiple troughs of influence rather than a single stall, remained relatively backlash-free. They smiled at each other while they played, and Win's brother ran around onstage doing random shit. Who cares if they have nothing to say! Look, red-headed dude's hitting a cymbal with a back-arching flourish... crazy!

With Neon Bible finally coming out, it's hilarious to see the scribes that allotted Funeral a ‘‘9.heaven’’ grade list their reasons for knocking the ol’ sophomore effort down a few pegs. Not as ‘personal’? Less ‘varied’? Faulty ‘production’? HA. While other sites look for reasons to take Neon Bible down a notch to make up for their wad-blowing, shit-losing, perspective-less, bandwagon-riding reviews of Funeral, TMT is simply going to evaluate the music and stake a claim: Neon Bible is the first step to The Arcade Fire becoming the band everyone wishes they were. Considering how out-of-hand things have gotten, it's more than anyone rightly could have expected.

The most encouraging development by far is the fact that Win Butler and co. have an identity now. Influenced by the '80s and all-things-angular as it may be, Neon Bible is Arcade Fire from cover-to-cover. Short of a Revelation, it's the sound of a talented band finding its true genesis. And gawrsh, they've got something to say now, too! Shucks, what's next, a consistent, compelling album? Yeppers, it's time to break out the party hats and your saved allowance money; Arcade Fire are coming out to play this time. They've latched onto a firm sound, no longer desperately clasping their hands onto the coattails of the greats.

Most surprising is Neon Bible's sequencing, which places each tune in its rightful resting place rather than front-loading the good shit and letting things slope from there. Following another bible to the ‘T' (i.e. the Indie Bible), the best track is nestled in slot number four ("Intervention"), the opening number foreshadows the movements to come ("Black Mirror"), and the finale is a slow-builder with lotsa soul ("My Body is a Cage"). There are a few entries you won't find yourself dog-ear-ing, to be sure, but this time the ripes outweigh the gripes. So far so good, right mate? What's that? Oh, you want to know about the production...

Well rest assured, the production is nails, masterfully compacting Arcade Fire's multi-headed attack down to an acceptable size without snipping down their antics. Best of all, their use of instruments is a little less showy. A little less, mind you; the main difference is that we're allowed to digest the bare elements before being bombarded by pomp. The songs are allowed to crack a few knuckles and stretch their legs before they do any heavy lifting, and you'll find yourself appreciating their roots more as a result. It's like working for a personnel service; if you put an employee in the right place at the right time, he/she will work THAT much harder for you. Why spend money on extra temps when you can staff an entire organization with just a few?

With the compositions structured more effectively, Butler's voice is given the chance to take center stage, and he doesn't disappoint, delivering his message with an odd recasting of Ian McCulloch's tremolovely yell that is distinctive without being overtly signature. His trembling vocals quiver and quaver like always, shaking uncontrollably like a leaf in a strong breeze or a lady's lower lip when she's about to get verklempt. His passionate delivery, rather than little ticks and cloying mannerisms, gives his vocals that extra something, and when he isn't handling the singing for even a few bars -- which is rare -- I find myself hoping he'll be back, and soon. "No Cars Go," for example, finds Butler and soul/bandmate Regine Chassagne combining forces, but she drowns him out and snuffs the song's worth in the process. An exception is the jittery "The Well and the Lighthouse," which sees the two tandem-ing on a sweet chorus and tag-teaming a few other snippets to delightful ends.

Neon Bible confirms what even naysayers like yours truly have known all along: The Arcade Fire have a scary upside. But do they have that extra somethin'-somethin', that barely perceivable spark that separates the superb from the good? That extra cherry on top that makes all the cream seem that much tastier and worth chomping through? That presence that warrants special attention in a room full of competitors? Fuck, it's their SECOND ALBUM; how the fuck would I know? Get a life.

1. Black Mirror
2. Keep the Car Running
3. Neon Bible
4. Intervention
5. Black Wave / Bad Vibrations
6. Ocean of Noise
7. The Well and the Lighthouse
8. (Antichrist Television Blues)
9. Windowsill
10. No Cars Go
11. My Body is a Cage

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