Arcade Fire: Neon Bible

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible

A

Arcade Fire

Album: Neon Bible
Label: Merge

The Arcade Fire's follow-up to 2004's Funeral looks and sounds like an elaborate riddle. The oblique lyrics are overwhelmingly ominous; the murky liner notes—with their flip-book images of a young girl on stage and costumed synchronized swimmers in inky water—look like production stills from a David Lynch film; and the music portends something sinister. Through Neon Bible, the band is seemingly sending a beacon to other reasonable people forced underground by the world's insanity. It's almost like a musical version of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Neon Bible's first and last songs serve as a preface and epilogue. "Black Mirror" opens the album with a slow burn that grows more insistent up to its string-laced crescendo. "My Body Is A Cage" closes the album with a similarly subdued mood that grows more intense with a huge-sounding church organ. It's not until "Cage" that frontman Win Butler reveals the cause of Neon Bible's despair: "I'm living in an age that calls darkness light." Fear keeps him moving, but "still my heart beats so slow." But even at its darkest, the Arcade Fire never sounds resigned; they're ready to fight God Himself on "(Antichrist Television Blues)," a thoroughly bleak, Springsteen-esque rocker. In it, a "good Christian man" repeatedly seeks answers from God, but finds only silence. The song ends abruptly after Butler sings, "I'm through being cute / I'm through being nice / O tell me, Lord, am I the Antichrist?"

The penultimate song "No Cars Go," which originally appeared on the group's self-titled EP, shows the Arcade Fire at its Arcade Fieriest: A gloriously triumphant passage fills the final two minutes, built with a propulsive beat and bass line, and a chorus of voices that recalls the beginning of Funeral's "Wake Up." A hopeful hymn amidst songs that radiate despair, "No Cars Go" makes the similarly triumphant "Rebellion (Lies)" from the first album sound like a funeral dirge. If there weren't some reason left to believe, it'd be pointless to make such a gorgeous album.