Monday, April 02, 2007
I suppose there are a few of you out there who are wondering why it took me so long to finally get around to posting a review (or my best attempt at a review)of The Arcade Fire's latest album, Neon Bible. It's definitely not a case of me not buying the album as soon as humanly possible, that's for sure. I was at HMV the morning of the release to pick it up as is customary for me when it comes to music releases that I highly anticipate (remember, I did book a day off work just for the day that Tool's 10,000 Days was released). So why the delay in telling you, my gentle readers, what I thought of the disc?
Well, to be very honest with you, I wanted to love the album as much as I possibly could so that I could properly gush over it. In order to do that I had to listen to it a number of times just so that it could emerge from the mighty, practically monolithic, shadow that the Arcade Fire album that preceeded it Funeral I knew would cast. I love Funeral so much that I'm sure I'll be gushing about that one for years and years to come. My grandchildren (or the grandchildren that I one day hope to have) will find it more than mildly irritating to listen to me hype Funeral and that will be decades and decades from now. They will subsequently disown me, but you know what? Fuck 'em! Funeral is that fucking great!
So you can imagine how difficult for me it would be to just pick up any album that would have the gall to try to follow-up such a huge album.
I don't want you to think that the album didn't appeal to me at all when I first heard it. Almost instantly "Intervention" had me hooked, but, truthfully, I bought it as a pre-release single off iTunes weeks before Neon Bible came out so it had some time to sink in. Even though "Keep The Car Running" seems to be the first single from the disc I think it will be "Intervention" that will hook the casual listeners. I mean how many radio-friendly songs out there are built around the sound of a big church organ? 274. I checked. But damn it, this one will be 275!
What Neon Bible does more than Funeral is it brings to the forefront of The Arcade Fire's music an immense sound. Immediately I was struck by how loud this CD can get at times. The aforementioned organ in "Intervention" is grandiose, and it gets even bigger, possibly as big as an organ can sound during "My Heart Is A Cage." But aside from the organ, horns come to life in "An Ocean Of Noise" and strings almost drown lead singer Win Butler's voice out during the Bruce Springsteen-esque "(Antichrist Television Blues)."
Gone, though, is a lot of the romance that really made Funeral so stunning for me to listen to. And at first I was actually a little disappointed by that, but now I see it as necessary. The subject matter that the band is dealing with here is actually quite a bit darker, but ultimately I think the message that comes through is that there is redemption to be had. The romance that I detected in Funeral had a time and place and it was on that album. This album is a completely different beast and has its own voice and messages to convey. There is a bleakness that seems to haunt a lot of the music here:
"Mirror, mirror on the wall,
show me where the bombs will fall,"
Win Butler closes "Black Mirror" with. He then goes on to sing:
"Oh God! well look at you now!
Oh! you lost it, but you don't know how!
In the light of a golden calf,
Oh God! I had to laugh!
Take the poison of your age
Don't lick your fingers when you turn the page,
It was wrong but you said it was right,
In the future I will read at night."
in Neon Bible's title track. This is bleak. And, sure enough, as the album nears its end the message becomes more uplifting; its ultimate optimism starts to show.
Which leads me to a somewhat interesting aside about this CD. The second-to-last track on the disc is "No Cars Go," which puzzled me by its inclusion since it was a song that was released on a prior recording by The Arcade Fire, in particular, their self-titled EP, which even got some more widespread commercial appeal in a reissue after the band became a critical darling. So it was odd to see a song that was already released being re-release, albeit arranged slightly differently than its first incarnation. However, in the scheme of Neon Bible's evolution, it's a song from the catalogue that fits in the cycle perfectly, being the last song before the culmination of the album.
The culmination comes in the form of "My Body Is A Cage" and it's my favorite track on the disc so far because its the biggest sound and it erupts from such a humble start. But the message of redemption is its most painfully obvious during this last song. And climax? This song has climax in spades:
"Set my spirit free!
Set my body free!"
You have to check this album out. It comes with my highest recommendation.
I'll leave you with a video that I found on youtube of an unofficial music video some guy made for "My Body Is A Cage" out of ripped footage from Once Upon A Time In The West. I love how technology is letting people do stuff like this. It's strange to see this song played over a gunfight, but it seems to work. Check the video out even if you just want to hear a good song.