Sound — 9
Montreal's Arcade Fire returns from its awe-inspiring debut Funeral, an album centered around the concept of death (after many of the members' relatives passed away), with an even darker album centered around the current state of the world. The whole vibe of Neon Bible can be summed up with the title of the track Black Waves/Bad Vibrations. Described by musician/vocalist Win Butler as like standing in the ocean at night, the music is indeed very dark and haunting. But it still retains the grandiosity and multi-instrumentalism of Funeral, making Neon Bible a dense, melodic, emotional album sure to become a classic amongst indie fans. Win Butler's voice takes on a darker, world-weary edge throughout the album, on tracks such as Windowsill and particularly on the pleading My Body is a Cage, the extraordinary closer. There has been a subtle shift away from the guitars as the string section takes a more pronounced role (No Cars Go) even playing a few lead lines in Black Mirror. The drumming remains as dynamic as it was on Funeral, despite the replacement of Howard Bilerman by Jeremy Gara. The band have also incorporated the church organ, most effectively on My Body is a Cage. Every instrument, however, adds to the dynamic element of the music, thus making Neon Bible a listening experience that should most definitely be played at high volumes.
Lyrics — 10
The best quality about Neon Bible is it's lyrics. No exaggeration, they are some of the best lyrics I have ever listened to, both poetic and purposeful. In short, Neon Bible is a commentary about the declining moral, social, and particularly spiritual state of the world. The album opens with the evidently dark Black Mirror named after a voyeuristic ancient device used to foretell the future. It is this Black Mirror that the band holds up to the world's face on the rest of the album. Windowsill targets corporate America with lines such as I don't want the salesmen knocking at my door/I don't wanna live in America no more and MTV what have you done to me? /save my soul/set me free/I can't breathe, I can't see. (Antichrist Television Blues), a song supposedly about Michael Lohan (yes, father of Lindsay), describes the manipulation of a daughter by her father in hopes of escaping a dead-end corporate life, and how he pleads God to let her be a success. The lines Wanna hold a mirror up to the world/ so they can see themselves in my little girl! shows how the world and the tragic character Lindsay are similar, in that both have turned to an existence of material excess and have sold out all that used to be good about themselves, and are reaping the consequences. I'm through being cute/I'm through being nice/Oh tell me Lord/am I the Antichrist? Organized religion is also a target, in Intervention (Working for the church while your family dies) and Neon Bible (A vial of hope and a vial of pain./In the light they both looked the same and Not much chance for survival/if the Neon Bible/is right). Ocean of Noise is about the disintegration of relationships (Left in the morning/while you were fast asleep, and You've got your reasons/and me I've got mine, /but all the reasons I gave/were just lies to buy myself some time). Keep the Car Running is about being forcibly separated from loved ones (Men are coming to take me away/don't know why but I know I can't stay and If some night I don't come home/please don't think that I've left you alone). No Cars Go expresses a desire for escape from the rush and concerns of modern life (We know a place where no planes go/we know a place where no ships go), while Black Wave/Bad Vibrations suggests a total lack of hope (Nothing lasts forever, that's the way it's gonna be/there's a great black wave in the middle of the sea). The album closes with My Body is a Cage a spiritual lament directed at mankind that contains some of the finest lines on the album (I'm living in an age/that calls darkness light/though my language is dead/still the shapes fill my head). The album ends as Win Butler tosses up one last hopeful prayer: Set my spirit free!
Overall Impression — 9
This is a near-perfect album. I would call Neon Bible the Dark Side of the Moon of our generation (mainly because of the similar themes) if it weren't musical blasphemy to compare it to the greatest album of all time. The music is moving and emotional (thankfully by no means emo), the lyrics are poetic, and the spiritual themes are the best I've heard from any secular band. I personally prefer it to Funeral but I'm sure many will disagree. I would buy this album twice so that if it were stolen, both the thief and I could have a copy.