Arcade Fire Neon Bible(Merge Records) Buy it from Insound
Three years ago, closing my review for Funeral, I wondered whether Arcade Fire or the Fiery Furnaces, fresh off Blueberry Boat, would be the best band produced by the new decade. The Furnaces, still making interesting music, announced their retreat with the mad randomness of 2005's Rehearsing My Choir. That leaves Arcade Fire, who make all talk of sophomore slumps laughably irrelevant with the release of Neon Bible.
Others have called attention to the increasing influence of Bruce Springsteen on the band, but what are they talking about? Oh sure, there are songs about cars and "my father's house" and the "light of day", Oceans of Noise would sit nicely on The River and borrows its fade out from New York City Serenade, the ecstatic, communal live shows are already becoming legendary, the predilection towards huge anthems produced by a 7 piece band is becoming apparent, etc., etc. Ok, maybe there are some similarities. What they really borrow from Springsteen is the belief that, while everything else might be falling apart, the one place you can always find release and redemption is in the music. At their best, like on Intervention or No Cars Go or Keep the Car Running, this band can actually take you to another place, or another plane, or at least out of your present reality. This is what everyone is responding to.
Could Neon Bible actually best their stunning 2004 debut? Yes. On Funeral, the band wrestled with death and its aftermath. Here, they look outward at the world from, and this is crucial, an American perspective. The band is headquartered just over the border in Montreal, but Win Butler hails from Texas, and he clearly despairs at where we find ourselves. I lived through the 70's and those were pretty bleak times, but it always seemed like we were paying for somebody else's mistakes, whether it was the generation that got us into Vietnam or the distant oil cartel that was showing us who really held the cards. Now, if you are part of that disaffected 60-70% of the US electorate, you writhe in shame over what we have wrought. WE - not someone else. This is what I hear on Neon Bible. This is a black, apocalyptic vision, and it springs from one who is culpable. "If I seem lost, well I weighted the cost and chose my crime - now it's mine all mine!", Butler wails on The Well and Lighthouse as if he meant it. This guilt and shame culminates in the astonishing Windowsill, in which he becomes fed up with our bankrupt culture and declares "I don't want to live in America no more". This floored me. Non-Americans may think that line is tossed off, or maybe even obvious, but only someone who grew up believing in your country's greatness and inevitable superiority would realize what an agonizing statement that was to make.
Well, I still believe in Arcade Fire's greatness and superiority. The "formula" that some decry, involving the soft beginning, the gradual building of intensity, and the orgasmic release with the band in full swing, works, for chrissake! I mean, what a stupid criticism to begin with. Guess what, Sheena is a Punk Rocker is an awesome song, even though the Ramones had "done it before". And we still all like sex, even though it ends the same way every time (hopefully). No, these are simply great songs, performed with passion and abandon, and what's more, you can dance to them! Just try to sit still during Keep the Car Running. I can't do it. The music is beautiful, spiritual, intense, fun and, as Lester Bangs once called the Clash, righteous. Like the Clash, this band is making music that matters, or sounds like it does, and is playing it as if it needed to be played. What more could we ask for?7 March, 2007 - 16:02 — Alan Shulman