My accompanying column that I posted today, which involved my babbling, was generally inspired by war or by anxieties over the violence of power. But while my words form part of an Internet subtext in the blogosphere here we have the very same ideas song by song in Win’s earnest tones over sublime string arrangements and tight rock instrumentation. It seems forever since the indie music world discovered the critically acclaimed Funeral, so the release today of Arcade Fire’s sophomore album is in great anticipation, especially since the slow leak of sonic material and related media that has been given to fans the past two months.
2007 will see, and has seen, the second release from many indie hopefuls; Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park and Bloc Party to name a few. Only Bloc Party have attempted to address a broad social polemic, with mixed reviews; many complaints lie with Kele Oreke’s very direct and obvious lyrics. Indie music has greater links to moody social commentary than direct protest work, although in America where the form is a loose tradition, it’s depressing that the most publicised responses are Neil Young’s Living with War and some songs from the Dixie Chicks. The Arcade Fire take a more sanctimonious approach; their metaphors are wide open as if they themselves are still applying meaning to them.
The record begins with rumbling feedback and moves into Black Mirror, instantly laying out the key images of the supernatural, crushing water and a Gothic darkness; a modern world staring back, alien to the group. Win’s vocals have some subtle production that tug upon it eerily, and along with the soaring string arrangements they show that they have finally found themselves comfortable with the studio. The track is one of the stronger on the album but the next, Keep the Car Running, ups the tense apocalyptic/dystopian approach with what is an incredibly powerful vocal, when compared to either Regine or Win’s hesitant voices on Funeral. Intervention uses another display of this power combined with a full church organ but also highlights some major lyrical flaws in creating such strength of message; lines like “Working for the Church while my family dies/ Your little baby sister is going to lose her mind” just doesn’t compare to the simple, pleasing rhymes and abstract grief of Funeral. This is just a minor complaint however, and when this tendency to the obvious is put to use in Black Wave it becomes a symbol of immediacy; “Nothing lasts forever, that ‘s the way its gotta be/ There’s a great black wave in the middle of the sea”, especially when combined with Richard Reed Parry’s buzzing guitar riffs. The group have pushed their sound further; the guitar work seems looser, the aforementioned production and greater instrumentation plus a greater tendency for girl group harmonies and singing from Win Butler’s wife Regine Chassagne is very successful. The end-of-the-world message of Black Wave is joined together with Regine’s own message of running to form a whole from two halves in track five, as Black Wave/Bad Vibrations, which is almost perfection. Mild experimentation continues in the closer My Body Is A Cage, with a slow blues drum beat, an organ and then a choir, which builds with horns.
Neon Bible is not the utter classic that everyone was hoping for. But then two in a row would be stretching it a bit (that is assuming you agree with my opinion of Funeral being a masterpiece). But it is still a triumph and shows a certain progression that everyone wants from an indie band. The rhythms are still propulsive but the songs are more grand and lose some momentum in being bigger; I doubt that Keep the Car Running will prove to be the club hit that Rebellion (Lies) was in 2005/6. What will keep this album in the player is the breadth of vision and coherence; the songs carry you through a certain Neon Bible aesthetic with an wonderful adherence to a concept that can’t be found with any other band.