Neon Bible

Funeral was by no means a fluke. The Arcade Fire are unquestionably the real deal. And to prove it they’ve now thrown in another contender for ‘best record of the decade’.

Just before Christmas, Win Butler saw fit to state that the main objective motivating the recording of Arcade Fire’s hungrily anticipated second album was to harness nothing less than Dylan’s mid ‘60s “wild mercury sound”.

Almost immediately, a generation grown weary of the all-mouth-and-no-trousers braggadocio of modern rock musicians nodded knowingly. Time magazine cover? Check. On-stage appearance with your Bonos, Byrnes and Bowies? Check. Inevitability of piss-poor, ego-inflated, follow-up? Umm.

But guess what? There was no need to fret. In an old church outside Montreal, Butler and his cohorts have only gone and bucked this dispiriting trend for underachievement, and have conjured up an album that even the young (and big-haired) Bob would have been happy to call his own.

Neon Bible, it turns out, is a record that contains multitudes. It is a state of the nation address; an enigmatic, poetic puzzle; a sure bet for ‘07’s record of the year. But above all – from the Velvets-like vortex of opener ‘Black Mirror’ (and in these days of downloads and ‘cut your own running order’, how quaint is it to find a song that really couldn’t be anything other than an opening number?) to the sepulchral, bone-dry gospel of ‘My Body Is A Cage’ – one thing is clear: this is an absolutely fantastic sounding album – a rich, electrified folk music, beautifully textured with organic instrumentation (mandolins, harps, string sections, Hungarian male voice choirs!) and subtle washes of analogue electronics.

And it has songs to match the sonic accompaniment.

Take first single, ‘Keep The Car Running’ – a barnstorming mash-up of ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and some great forgotten Pixies track; or ‘Ocean Of Noise’ which starts off on a beautiful Morricone vibe, before erupting into a full-on mariachi wig-out, along the way, allowing Butler to dust-off an unexpected Roy Orbison croon.

‘Intervention’ and ‘Windowsill’, I’ll allow you to discover for yourself. Before, that is, they come looking for you: in that stealthy way that classic songs do.

Lyrically speaking, there simply hasn’t been a record this twitchy and spooked by life since Kid A. While that album seemed to have an eerie, almost precognitive awareness of 9/11 and its attendant panics (remember ‘Idiotheque’s’ Cassandra-like refrain of “Ice age coming/Ice age coming/We’re not scaremongering/But this is really happening”), Neon Bible – with its betrayed loyalties, misplaced faith, cowering populace and bombed-out terrains – has been written very much in the shadow of that event.

The suspicion lingers that Butler is using the record to make his pitch as the defining frontman of the Noughties (as I’m about to prove, no reviewer will be able to resist quoting the line “I don’t want to fight in a Holy War/I don’t want the salesman knocking on my door/And I don’t want to live in America no more”); and, were one to approach it in a mean spirit, Neon Bible’s constant references to soldiers and “oceans of violence” and biblical sources (“The lambs and the lions ain’t sleeping yet” runs the chorus to ‘The Well And The Lighthouse’) could make it feel like something conjured up in Seminal Records For Beginners 101. But on the whole, so thunderingly convincing is the performance that the odd moments of artifice are forgivable.

So, Funeral was by no means a fluke. The Arcade Fire are unquestionably the real deal. And to prove it they’ve now thrown in another contender for ‘best record of the decade’.

Wild.

Illustration: Jon Berkeley

 

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