Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Neon Bible' by The Arcade Fire

Unexpected distributions of radiance: that's what you expect from titles like Black Mirror and Neon Bible, and that's what you get on The Arcade Fire's second album. A xylophone outshines a church organ, a cracked syllable in a verse outshines a whole chorus. (And, incidentally, this album outshines the last twelve months of British indie put together.) There is no Power Out here: the electricity is always, always on. The Arcade Fire, in other words, have no sense of proportion, and God bless them for it. So far all the reviews have been proclaiming that Neon Bible is a vision of the apocalypse; and yes, I suppose it is, except that this is a band who have always worn doom-tinted spectacles - for whom, everything, from a light snowfall up, is a vision of the apocalypse. If the next Corrine Bailey Rae LP is a vision of the apocalypse, then that's notable, but not so much for a band who get through more apocalypses daily than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Sorry, that reference is a bit 1998, but I can't really bring myself to compare this band to Heroes.)

And this time it's not just horns that are bringing down the Walls of Jericho, but also harps, flutes, strings, a hurdy-gurdy, etc etc. But this isn't the same kind of precision pop orchestration that you get from, say, Sufjan Stevens – every band member seems to be trying to drown out his or her neighbour. And Neon Bible does sometimes slop over into a bit of a soup; the album is really at its best when there are only, like, seven instruments playing instead of, like, nineteen.

The gloomy swell of Windowsill and the danceable joy of No Cars Go are as good as anything on Funeral. But, despite RĂ©gine Chassagne's backing vocals sounding more alarmed than ever, Neon Bible never achieves quite the same consistency of tear-stained teenage passion which made its predecessor one of the best albums of 2004. The weaker tracks here, like My Body Is A Cage and Ocean of Noise, have wonderful moments – sometimes involving the whole band shouting something, and sometimes just in the details – but, droning on, they just lack those emotional hairpin turns that make other songs so strikingly unpredictable. I think this band can really do whatever they want: it's just their ambition that sometimes fails them. Lead singer Win Butler said in an interview that on Antichrist Television Blues, for example, he wanted to do a very conventional Springsteen-style rock song. And he did, and consequently, yeah, it's a bit boring. So skip tracks like that and wait for the moments when The Arcade Fire pull out all the stops, both figuratively and literally: they will amaze you.


Out on Monday on Sonovox.

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