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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Music |
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Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

Here it is: the much-anticipated sophomore release from revered Montreal indie kids the Arcade Fire.

With 2005’s Funeral, an album of such astoundingly grand vision and character, it seemed that they had condemned themselves to inevitable future criticism, as any album recorded after their debut would surely be judged in light of its brilliantly captivating older brother and found wanting. Fear not, everyone; Neon Bible is really rather good.

All of the same ingredients are here: Win Butler’s shaky, wavering voice still cuts defiantly through the band’s cosy instrumentation, the thumping rhythms and strident fist-in-the-air melodies still march throughout the songs, and the same warm production gives the album a crisp, punctuated glow. However, something essential has changed – whereas Funeral won us over with its mournful sweep and pensive melancholy, Neon Bible greets us at the door with something else: bitterness and calculated rage.

From the brooding storm noise that opens ‘Black Mirror’ through to the looming church organ that finishes out ‘My Body Is a Cage’, Neon Bible portrays a formerly hopeful bunch of kids becoming coldly cynical with the state of affairs they find themselves in. The ninth track, ‘Windowsill’ showcases this perfectly; ‘Don’t wanna fight in a holy war, don’t want the salesmen knocking at my door, I don’t wanna live in America no more.’ The marvellously dark ‘Intervention’ features a chorus with the line, ‘been working for the Church while my family dies.’ The Arcade Fire are pissed off, and they’re here to let us know about it.

Despite this, there are still a few moments of unrestrained joy in this album; second track ‘Keep the Car Running’ finds itself in familiar Arcade Fire territory, dominated by swelling strings and soaring vocal harmonies that push the song upwards. ‘No Cars Go’ (a song from their 2003 self-titled E.P. re-recorded for the occasion) pulses and shines with superbly insistent drumming, thick bass and thrusting bursts of colourful guitar noise.

With Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire have delivered what many feared would be unlikely; they have managed a distinct change in artistic direction whilst still retaining the quintessentially unique identity that made us all so smitten in the first place. Get your hands on a copy and breathe a sigh of relief.

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