Arcade Fire â€“ Neon Bible
Merge Records (to be released 3/6/07)
A critic walks a fine line when reviewing a sophomore album by a band like Arcade Fire. One on hand, if I like it then I am jumping on the bandwagon a little too late, and people who read this will think I am only flowing with popular demand, similar to the Sufjan Stevens bandwagon. Many critics somehow missed/dissed Illinois but after massive praise they all gave the b-side album Avalanche undeserved glowing reviews. But, if I don’t like it, I have no musical taste whatsoever and the mere mention of my name in critical and social circles will leave such a sour taste in everyone’s mouth they would be forced to drink more to remove it, therefore impairing their driving abilities, possibly resulting in a fatal accident, and leaving a big, echoing dent in my scruples for the rest of my life. So, I start off the review with a shivering statementâ€¦ I did not like the first album.
I admit, upon going back and listening to Funeral with older, wiser ears, that it is a fantastic album. I also admit, with a humble heart, that I just didn’t see what they were getting at. Neon Bible dug its claws deep into me, from the eerie ambient fade-in on “Black Mirror” to the last striking pipe organ blast in “My Body Is a Cage” (a track which I highly recommend you turn on as loud as possible). There is not a weak song on the album, yet every song is completely distinctive. An abundance of finely played unique instruments give certain songs a worldly quality, yet even songs like the title track “Neon Bible” has a simple drum line and soft string section. However, it holds its weight with songs like “Intervention”, that sounds as if it was recorded in a picturesque gothic church. That divine sound is not without its Leonard Cohen-inspired irony as the singer, Win Butler, bawls â€œWorking for the church as your family diesâ€ and a child chorus resonates him in return. This album begs to be listened to in the dark, with a solid pair of headphones, and no distractions. Just be sure to keep sharp objects, ropes, pills and any other implements of self-slaughter away from your person at all times.
Every song has a captivating melodyâ€”no matter what genre they conquerâ€”that will carry you throughout the first listen of the album. I promise, immediately after, you will want to listen to it again. Every listen after thatâ€”and there will be manyâ€”you will be stirred by the raw emotion of Butler’s voice and lyrics, possessed by the haunting cherubic choral harmonies, and the pure endowment at the band’s ability to mimic different genres of music but turn it into something completely their own. They perfectly invoke the emotions at play within the songs’ thematic elements, be it the freedom of teenagers cutting school in “No Cars Go” to the wonderful juxtaposition of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, yet praying to God that your daughter makes it onto American Idol, in “Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues)”. I wouldn’t call this a concept album, but I would say that a solid philosophy connects the roots of all these songs together.
On to the rating. It is hard to give an album five stars. There is a lot of pressure in that; the album is rubbing elbows with the like of Blonde On Blonde, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hulk Hogan & The Wrestling Boot Band’s album Hulk Rules. Recently, I watched a live performance Arcade Fire did with David Bowie and was immediately struck by how similar they were. I would dare say that this album is just as good as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It also means I used up my five-star rating very early this year. Is this album perfect? No. Is any album? No. To give out a five-star rating so early on in my critical career is risky to say the least, as I don’t want the reputation as a five-star floozy. Aw hell, they deserve it. I haven’t heard an album this good in years.
Suggested Tracks: “Keep the Car Running”, “Intervention”, “Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues)”
WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECTâ€¦
David Bowie â€“ The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
This musical account of a Martian that comes to earth in order to rock is one of the greatest concept albums of all time. Ziggy, along with his band The Spiders from Mars, come to Earth to warn us that there is only five years left before the Earth will be destroyed. Thusly, they form a rock band and blow minds by introducing the world to uninhibited hedonism and freedom. Soon, as most rock bands do, even Martian ones, the power, glory, and fame become too much for Ziggy and he self-destructs. The amazingly experimental mixture of glam and hard rock make for a wonderful listen, no matter your opinion of Bowie.
“A Pillar of Salt” – The Thermals, from the album The Body, The Blood, The Machine (2006)
This song is off of a wonderful album that is less of an indictment of religion than it is a challenge to it. What says punk can’t be smart?