Arcade Fire Neon Bible Review

Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A staggering album that only the staunchest sonic agnostic could live without.

Lou Thomas 2007

It’s an appropriate title; this album should convert the unbelievers. Meanwhile the ‘Neon’ part could be the Montreal-based band’s own smart self-reference, because the neon stamp of the 1980s is all over this.

Before things get temporal though, it’s worth clocking (ho ho) the other themes that permeate this haunting, yet simultaneously uplifting, record.

The church is impossible to avoid and is often starkly juxtaposed with labour. On Intervention frontman Win Butler sings about "working for the church while your family dies" and on Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues) he claims to be "a good Christian man" before stressing the importance of getting paid while actual church organs blare away. They’re back again on morbid LP closer, My Body Is a Cage.

Modern living is addressed with lines that provoke and occasionally amuse throughout. On Windowsill there is a knowing "MTV / What have you done to me?" - perhaps mocking those who mistakenly believe image to be more important than actual songs, or maybe just a dig at TV-rotted youth.

Or how about Black Mirrors’ "Shot by security camera / You can watch your own image," suggesting the CCTV surveillance we all take for granted? None of these lines are overt in meaning but this music ain’t about answers handed to you on a plate.

Which brings us back to the 80s. This album will remind all those long enough in the tooth or iTunes account of Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, Kate Bush and Echo and The Bunnymen.

Keep the Car Running is the greatest tune ‘Heads front-weirdo, David Byrne, never sang on and sounds as huge as new galaxies exploding into life. Springsteen is evoked on the noughties blue-collar anthem of Antichrist…, arguably the album highlight and the Echo influence is most keenly felt on opener Black Mirror, which is driven by the most menacing piano riff and string section heard in pop in recent memory. Elsewhere, Black Wave’s jerky synths and unsteady beats recall the enigmatic Ms Bush to thrilling effect.

Some will doubtless complain that, like its predecessor, it’s a bit too serious for its own good; or that it does too much with its endless array of mandolins, galloping drums, organs, strings and synths. But these are quibbles. Neon Bible is a staggering album that only the staunchest sonic agnostic could live without. Praise be.

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