Arcade Fire dies down
Contrary to what logic might tell you, becoming wildly successful is one of the worst things to happen to a band’s career. Oh sure, making money is, generally speaking, a good thing (if you’re a capitalist dog). But by becoming so popular, artists are then faced with soul crushing scrutiny for their next album.
Such a problem was faced by indie rockers The Arcade Fire. So sudden was the commercial and critical success of the group’s debut full length, Funeral, that it was as if the band members had sprouted from the Canadian arctic fully formed and ready to rock. But there was actually a heck of a lot of work put into Funeral. It was an incredibly personal album whose subject matter was concerned with the deaths of several of the group’s family matters. When you pour that much of your sorrow into a record, it must be hard to find more essence for a second one. But despite this, The Arcade Fire manned up and put out its sophomore effort, Neon Bible. Having debuted at number two on the Billboard charts, second only to Notorious B.I.G.’s greatest hits collection, it’s clear that a lot of people were waiting for Neon Bible to come out. The album (almost) lives up to such expectations.
Funeral and Neon Bible are both exactly the same and completely different. Again, you’re going to have to do away with logic here. Instrumentally, the two albums are of a piece — the band still makes French Canadian orchestral indie rock, although Neon Bible sounds a bit cleaner and fuller. On a lyrical level, the two albums are both still incredibly personal.
But there’s one huge overlapping difference between the two, and it is themes. Where Funeral was about familial loss, Neon Bible is more of a big-important-political-statement kind of record. It’s got less of the U2-ambience and more of the U2-pomp going on. Frontman Win Butler is still an ace pop songwriter; he’s just turned his focus inside out. On tracks like “Intervention” and “(Antichrist Television Blues),” Butler harshes on things that itch his craw, like the U.S. government and Jessica Simpson’s daddy, Joe. While it’s awfully incisive, it doesn’t quite connect on the same personal level as older Arcade Fire tracks like “Rebellion (Lies)” or “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” But hey, the song-length crescendo of “Intervention” is rather moving.
I don’t mean to imply that Neon Bible is a bad album. It’s just merely an OK one. Album opener “Black Mirror” is an OK folk/country/indie tune; “Neon Bible” is an OK, quiet indie pop song; album closer “My Body is a Cage” is an OK collection of organ swells and choir flourishes.
But the most damning part about Neon Bible is that its best track, “No Cars Go,” is also a recycled one. Appearing originally on the EP The Arcade Fire, “No Cars Go” gets gloriously updated, with a peppier tempo and fierier vocals. Unfortunately, this old tune knocks over the new material a little too well. Neon Bible sounds like what an Arcade Fire album ought to sound like. It’s much lusher sounding than Funeral or The Arcade Fire, but it lacks the emotional resonance of such past works. It is merely good.
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