Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep: Arcade Fire : "Neon Bible" (Merge Records)

Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Arcade Fire : "Neon Bible" (Merge Records)

How does a band follow up one of the the best and widely acclaimed debut LP's of all time?. If the band in question is Montreal's Arcade Fire, then they would draft in an army of musicians (including a Hungarian orchestra) and an arsenal of weird and wonderful instruments to record the expansive and ambitious "Neon Bible". Released to near mass hysteria worldwide, a debate rages on. Is "Neon Bible" as good as "Funeral", their jaw-dropping debut?. I'm not so sure, but the Canadian collective have given it their best shot, in any case.

Whether you like this album or not, whatever camp you sit in, you cannot deny quirky opener "Black Mirror", complete with Phil Spector style wall of sound production techniques, is a brilliant slice of euphoric rock. Featuring, the soon to be immortal line, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, show me where them bombs will fall", imagine tens of thousands of fans chanting this along with Win Butler on a muddy festival field. Sounding like an amalgamation of David Byrne, John Lydon and Elvis, the beanpole frontman has the charisma to be one of the great rock n'roll stars.

"Keep The Car Running" was a terrific set opener at Glasgow's Barrowlands last week and is worth mentioning for the use of a hurdy gurdy alone . Such cool instrumentation can be found throughout "Neon Bible", and on this occasion it complements the incessant rythmns that soon give way to a hugely infectious chorus. "Intervention", meanwhile, kicks off with a dramatic blast of church organ, as wailing guitars, twinkling glockenspiel and incredible percussion drives this track along. The line "working for the church, when your family dies.." is sure to raise a few eyebrows in bible belt USA.

"Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" is another sensational moment here and initially recalls some sort of dark 80's synth pop track. Trading French and English lyrics, "Black Wave.." soon unfolds into a breathtaking mass of female and male vocal harmonies. Right now, there is no band on the planet that can match music this heavenly.

"Neon Bible" maybe lacks the instant nature of "Funeral", but tracks such as the Hawaiin-tinged "Ocean of Noise" shows the band have tried to vary their sound. In this case it works a treat, with Reggae influenced guitar picking colliding with Summery synths and rolling waves of percussion. It soon developes into a dazzling chorus that transports you to the ocean front, before ending with glorious sounding Mexican horn sounds courtesy of Calexico's Martin Wenk.

However, the reason why "Neon Bible" doesn't quite top "Funeral" for me, is that some of the songs fall flat on their face. The rather dull title track, for example, seems oddly out of place near the start of the record. While "(Antichrist Television Blues)" veers a little too close to Springsteen AOR territory for my liking. Although, if you can get past that horrible comparison, then I suppose it's not so bad.

Thankfully, this is only a minor issue on "Neon Bible" and tracks like "No Cars Go" are utterly sublime. A reworking of the track which was initially found on their self-released ep from a few years ago, this is undoubtedly the album's best moment. With jagged percussion and a driving bassline, the male/female vocal duelling combines brilliantly with lush string and brass arrangements. It seems to encompass everything that makes Arcade Fire so great. Just after the 4 minute mark, the Montreal collective will send you into sheer ecstasy, with possibly the greatest, singalong chant ever put to record. It is half marching band, half stadium rock and potentially song of the year. You cannot help but join in.

Ending with the massive-sounding, soul influenced "My Body Is A Cage", "Neon Bible" is an ambitious attempt by Arcade Fire. Much more varied than "Funeral", the sheer volume of ideas occasionally lessens the impact of certain tracks. But then, it is one of those records that seemS to get better with every listen and soon turns out to be equally as rewarding as their debut. The early 90's belonged to Nirvana, Radiohead soundtracked the millenium and beyond. Perhaps it will be the job of Arcade Fire to take over the mantle as the world's next important band.

Rating - 85%

Alternative Review (1)
Alternative Review (2)
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"Black Mirror" mp3 - Arcade Fire

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