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Articles and Reviews: MUSIC

Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire (Universal/Merge)

The problem with having released a much lauded, five star debut is that the pressure to trump it with your second collection is often enough to make a young band implode. One thinks of Television, for example: while Adventure was a decent album by ordinary standards, it paled in comparison to the stunning originality of its predecessor, Marquee Moon, like a little brother suffering from younger-sibling syndrome, overshadowed by the first born male. And let’s not even start on The Stone Roses.

The good news is that Montreal’s Arcade Fire did not buckled under the weight of expectation, but have successfully negotiated this obstacle, with flying colours. In doing so, they have neither torn up their template, nor simply settled for trotting it out again, but consolidated their strengths by deepening and extending their existing palate. If 2004’s Funeral was one long anguished farewell to youth, Neon Bible (incidentally named after the first novel by A Confederacy of Dunces author, John Kennedy Toole) is waking up in the adult world, and what a scarily inhospitable place it proves to be, if chief lyricist Win Butler is to be believed.




Amid church organs and spiralling strings, the tone is by turns gothic, cryptic, apocalyptic. Opener ‘Black Mirror’ gives us: I know a time is coming/All words will lose their meaning and Mirror, mirror on the wall/Show me where them bombs will fall. The title track tells us: Not much chance of survival/If the Neon Bible is true. ‘Intervention’ boasts: Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home, while closer ‘My Body Is A Cage’, a kind of latter-day spiritual, warns: I'm living in an age/That calls darkness light/Though my language is dead/Still the shapes fill my head. With ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ the band prove that, despite their lavish instrumentation, they can still write a dirty assed, paranoid, r’n’b stomper. But it is on the hauntingly wonderful ‘Windowsill’ that they fully locate the belly of the beast: 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. Is that rising tide, threatening to engulf over the singer’s locked windows, an Old Testament flood, or the broken levees of New Orleans?

Anyone lucky enough to see this band at The Olympia recently will know that they are already instilling and inspiring the kind of frenzied, quasi-religious hysteria which characterised early U2 shows. The stadiums beckon, unfortunately. But they haven’t blown it, yet. I think this is rock music of the highest calibre. I think this artwork will last. I think this is a band that could go all the way to becoming one of the greats. I think this is the genuine article, the real thing.

First published in Magill, April 2007














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