Three years ago, a relatively unknown Montreal band named The Arcade Fire released their first full-length album entitled Funeral. Considered a concept album, Funeral gained massive praise from critics around the world, establishing the Arcade Fire as one of the seminal forces of modern indie-rock. But despite the acclaim, Funeral only reached No. 131 on the American Billboard 200.
Neon Bible, The Arcade Fire’s hotly-anticipated second album, has already outsold its predecessor, reaching No. 2 on the music charts in only its first week. Undoubtedly, the praise over the last three years has enhanced the band’s reputation, and their stunning live show has certainly not hurt. But, in the end, it is the strength of their songs and the originality of their sound that has truly propelled The Arcade Fire into the limelight, and Neon Bible proves that the band is definitely rock’s most fascinating act.
While Funeral contained mostly introspective lyrics about the ties we have to family and friends, Neon Bible focuses on worldly issues, ranging from war to politics and even religion. On the album opener “Black Mirror,” lead singer Win Butler cries, “Mirror mirror on the wall/Show me where them bombs will fall,” immediately setting Neon Bible off in a different lyrical direction than its predecessor.
But Neon Bible’s main accomplishment is its music. On Funeral, the Arcade Fire made each of their songs melodic and complex, using guitars, pianos, violins, and even accordions to weave melodies, counter-melodies, and rhythmic drums into mesmerizing songs.
They had a knack for adding just the right touches to each song, building each one up until it reached a tremendous climax at the end. Neon Bible does just the same — tracks like “Antichrist Television Blues” starts off simply enough with mostly just drums and an acoustic guitar, but eventually reaches a choir-filled crescendo by the end. The up-tempo “The Well and the Lighthouse” employs the same technique, concluding with a fantastically orchestrated climax.
“Intervention,” Neon Bible’s centerpiece, shows the Arcade Fire’s use of diverse instruments – in this case, a church organ. The song is not only the best song on the album, but quite possibly one of the best rock songs of the last few years, featuring a catchy melody, fantastic lyrics, and great vocals.
Backup vocals and an excellent string arrangement push the song even further, providing perfect accompaniment as Win Butler passionately sings, “Working for the church while your life falls apart/Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart!”
Violinist Regine Chassagne also provides some vocals, most notably on the song “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” which excellently segues from a light and airy melody sung by Regine to a more dark and menacing one, sung by Win Butler. Other standout songs include the catchy “Windowsill” and the soaring and optimistic “No Cars Go.”With Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire has crafted its second masterpiece, distinct from Funeral yet equally brilliant. As time moves on, it will be interesting to see what direction the band will take and how they will handle mainstream success. Without a doubt, the future certainly looks bright for the Arcade Fire.