When you release a debut album like Arcade Fire did, follow-up expectations are raised to astronomical measures. What is going to be their encore? Did they peak too soon? These are a few questions that Arcade Fire had to face while recording the follow-up to their spectacular debut, 2004’s Funeral. Three years later, anticipation is high for the release of Neon Bible, their second full length on Merge Records. Produced by the band, Bible flows without a glitch through all eleven offerings, making smooth transitions between tracks and never disrupting the vibe being produced.
The compositions of each song from Win Butler and company remain stellar, and it’s an auditory treat to the ears to hear how beautifully meshed the variety of instruments are. Along with the usual guitar, drums, and bass, the piano, violin, viola, double bass, xylophone, keyboard, French horn, accordion, hurdy-gurdy and harp all make appearances on the album. Having a rather large band ( a total of seven members – Butler, Régine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara) definitely helps when trying to achieve such a sound.
Neon Bible is a dark, gothic (not Hot Topic “gothic” mind you) album that touches on many topics. “Black Mirror” begins the album like a quiet storm. You hear the wind rustling up and the guitar jangles throughout the calm opening verse. Then the storm hits as the keys and drums pick up. “Keep The Car Running” is an upbeat number that’ll liven up your pulse. The title track is a bleak, short tune that plods its way through. The highlight of the album comes via pipe organ, on the riveting “Intervention.” You’ll want to rise up to your feet and sing hallelujahs like you’re in church when Butler and his band really go all out towards the end. “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” is an interesting track, as the first minute and a half features Chassagne leading on vocals backed by a lighthearted vibe. A slight pause and Butler takes over vocals and the music takes a sharp turn to a darker, haunting sound.
“(Antichrist Television Blues)” is a peppy, folky song about asking God to include one into his plan and to give him a sign. “No Cars Go,” which originally appeared on the band’s self-released EP in 2003, gets a tune up here with more arrangements added. The contrast between Butler’s mellow voice and Chassagne’s high shrill creates a unique harmony, while the gang vocals and the entrancing musical work make this a fun sing-along track. The album closes with the slow “My Body Is A Cage,” where Butler meekly sings while the pipe organ begins to make its presence known. The final two and a half minutes are very enthralling as Butler exclaims “Set my spirit free/set my body free!” which brings Bible to a climatic finish.
When thinking of the flaws of Bible, one word comes to mind: excess. While having such a nice array of different instruments is great for the majority of the album, at times it’s just too much. Butler is battling these over dynamic sounds just have his voice heard. Production is what keeps Neon Bible at being just a really good record, rather than a great record.
Criticisms aside, the majority of hipsters will eat this up. If you were expecting another Funeral, you better wake up then, Peter Pan, because you are living in a fantasy land. Arcade Fire have leap-frogged the sophomore slump with their latest chapter in their still-young promising career. Put your faith in the Neon Bible.
Great review Drew. I strongly agree with you on many levels, except for the "excess" part. In my opinion, the array of instruments wasn't too much. It's what makes this album so definitive. It gives off such a strong statement, whether heard the first or hundreth time around. Win takes on every instrument in their arsenal and just dominates it with his solid lines and uplifting phrases. Régine does double duty and does a wonderful job as well. And although production wasnt top notch, keep in mind that the band did it themselves (maybe with a little help here and there), but nonetheless compared to other bands out there, producing an album by themselves with the material they had written for this record, it's just incredible.
No sophmore slump here, just one of my contenders for album of the year. Again, really great review Drew. Everyone needs to pick this album up!
Another great review Drew, we may strongly disagree about Dwade, but I strongly agree with you on music lol. I actually forgot that this was going to be released this week because Im so amped for Lovedrug and House of Fools but I'll be picking this up when I get the money, Arcade Fire is one of the most talented bands out there and Im expecting this release to cram them up into my favorite bands section.