The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible

Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer

Image The Arcade Fire’s debut LP, Funeral, is perhaps the best album of the new century, up there with the likes of Ta Det Lugnt, Kid A, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and a host of other immortals.  It defined the year 2004 for me and thousands of music fans worldwide.  The live shows it spawned are legendary and help explain why all of The Arcade Fire’s current tour sold out in less than ten minutes.  The accolades heaped upon The Arcade Fire could have filled a library shelf–and they were all warranted.  Funeral is simply a perfect album.

In the wake of Funeral, I downloaded all of the band's one-off songs and EP releases, which were for the most part very strong but also quite different.  The two surviving tracks from my "collection" that appear here, "Intervention" and "No Cars Go" are markedly different from the live performance version and rough cut I heard, respectively.  Yet it doesn't surprise me that the band would bring them onto the new LP, Neon Bible.  They needed to use some of their good tracks to fill out the record and it just so happened that they had some lying around.  I can't blame them, but I also don't think the tracks create the same atmosphere as those found on Funeral.  Remove any track from Funeral and the album just isn't the same.  That isn't the case here, at all.

Make no mistake, Neon Bible is a fine collection of songs and a good enough album to allow the band to continue to generate praise, but Funeral it ain't.  Out of the 11 tracks found here, perhaps only 3 or 4 could hold up against the majesty of “Neighborhood #1(Tunnels)” or “Wake Up.” 

“Keep the Car Running” is a Talking Heads-ey rollicking good time that stands in stark juxtaposition to the opener, “Black Mirror”—one of the worst and most depressingly boring songs Win Butler has ever written.
“Ocean of Noise” sounds like Born to Run-era Springsteen, plus a few of the trademark yelps and violin dirges we’ve come to expect from the band.  It also features some of the more poignant lyrics that Butler has imagined here.

“Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” is another dark and ghostly song, but it’s buttressed by remarkable instrumentation and several chaotic time changes that help offset the gloom.  A good rule of thumb with this band is that if the song titles feature a / or a set of ( ), that track tends to rule.

“Intervention” receives a perfect sprucing up on Neon Bible, replete with church organs and punishing percussion.  One of the mp3 versions of the song that I downloaded last week was a radio rip featuring an enthusiastic British-sounding DJ.  After the song’s conclusion he said, “Man, if that doesn’t get you going then I feel sorry for you.  That’s the hottest track in the world.”  Whether or not “Intervention” deserves that much praise is up to the listener, but it is a great song and I’m very pleased with the album version presented here.  It’s almost identical to the live version that floated around for years but sounds richer in every conceivable way.

I would have been shocked if the band were able to top their last effort.  Indeed, it would seem that while they could easily write a mix of songs reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields, Bruce Springsteen, or Talking Heads, they could only hope to move in new and varied directions on Neon Bible.  Overall, the album will definitely add to the wonders of their live shows, as these songs are built to go on the road.  But here, in the claustrophobic album setting, many of the tracks are just throwaways that sound even worse next to the songs that truly kick ass.  Still, I would recommend this album as a great introduction to a band that has meant so much to so many in their brief existence.