I suspect few records released in 2007 are going to provoke as much argument as this second Arcade Fire album, “Neon Bible”. A week before the official release date, you can already feel it coming, as inexorable as the tidal waves and imprecations of doom that fill Win Butler‘s lyrics.
Many people who loved “Funeral” seem to be finding “Neon Bible” a bit of a disappointment. In the new issue of Uncut, out this week, Allan Jones makes a persuasive case for “Neon Bible” being a flawed, intermittently brilliant follow-up, where the personal tragedies that informed “Funeral” have been replaced with a nebulous, and less engaging, sense of global meltdown. You get the impression, too, that a bunch of old fans are snooty about how the Arcade Fire are suddenly enormous, a frighteningly popular stadium rock band where once there was an approachable indie group – albeit one with unashamedly big ideas.
For what it’s worth, I thought “Funeral” was fractionally overrated. Hugely impressive, but the relentless intensity of it all was just too over-wrought for me to play often. Live, of course, that same intensity worked in the band’s favour. “Neon Bible” is undeniably clunky in places; surely, the trope of using Christian revivalist imagery as a means to get a secular message across is a bit played out now?
But in general, “Neon Bible” feels more musically nuanced, and better paced. The grandiose melodramatic moments are now given more context, and there’s more range to these songs. We know the Arcade Fire can do the heroic euphoria-in-the-face-of-the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse tunes, and the revamped version of “No Cars Go” and “Intervention” are as good as they come.
Today, though, I’m taken with the stealthier corners of “Neon Bible”: the “Killing Moon” swirl of “Black Mirror”; Regine Chassagne‘s arty, awkward half of “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations”; and, especially, “Ocean Of Noise”, which reminds me of subdued and neglected parts of the Pixies catalogue – like “Ana”, maybe – before it reaches a stirring Mariachi finale. It’s stuff like this that’ll keep me coming back to this fine record. . . Which you can hear right now, incidentally, streaming over at NME. Let me know what you think.