I must admit I’ve been hesitant to listen to the Arcade Fire’s second release, The Neon Bible, after suffering through the dismal, bizarre Funeral. Here I was, trying to like this group, trying to give them a chance, and I’m given James Joyce’s Ulysses as a starter. I mean, WTF?
Luckily, The Neon Bible is much easier to digest. From the pounding cadence of the opening song, “Black Mirror,” you can tell that there’s more emphasis on music than there is orchestration or quirkiness or weird song titles that highlighted Funeral. Lead singer Win Butler’s voice is much more subdued, and at times he sounds like Bruce Springsteen, especially during the John Cafferty-esque “Keep the Car Running.”
The highlight of the album is “Intervention,” which begins with an ominous pipe organ but changes to a major chord that transforms the song into a joyous anthem – until you listen to the lyrics: “Working for the church while your family dies / You take what they give you and you keep it inside / Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.”
“Ocean of Noise” is anything but, as the song fades into a wonderful brass ensemble that turns an otherwise bleak number into a celebration as Butler says to his lover, “It’s time to work it out.” But “My Body is a Cage” is both spooky and beautiful. It’s not the way you’d expect this album to end, but a return of the pipe organ sends a connecting theme throughout the album.
I’m beginning to understand the allure behind grandiose orchestration coupled with deeply personal, poetic lyrics. With The Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire have taken a good step forward in musicianship and are proving that you can be unique without having to be, well, weird.