Neon Bible is the follow-up to Arcade Fire’s incredibly successful debut album Funeral. It wasn’t nearly as immediate as Funeral was with it’s ‘oh-oh’s’, but instead took a darker turn into organised religion, god and urban paranoia. If Funeral was the light in the face of family death and the contemplation on what was happening in front of their eyes, Neon Bible concerns itself with the dark of what comes after, and whether we can trust it or not. It’s a more mature record, sounding like Arcade Fire are becoming adults and starting to ask the big questions. Neon Bible paints a vivid picture of religion as something tacky and seedy and God is like the shifty guy in a suit you pay your share of the profits to in order to keep your shop safe. It’s frightening and real.
In recent years Arcade fire have become something of an over bloated beast, making the lengthy-but-decent The Suburbs and the even-more-lengthy double album Reflektor. Funeral and Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire are regarded as the ‘traditional’ Arcade Fire with all of their wailing anthems, which pretty much ended with their best: ‘No Cars Go’. This song came from their first EP, back when Win Butler still sounded like he was singing on his last day alive. However, it was brought back as a different animal altogether, this time morphing into a tear-inducing song about escaping from the noise of modern life. The lyrics, however simple ‘We know a place / No cars go’, are delivered with such passion by Butler and wife Régine Chassagne that it’s damn near impossible to view it as just a song. The instrumentation, bursting into life with marching drums, some of the best violin work on an Arcade Fire song and the throbbing baseline contribute to a song for modern life and a celebration of everything wrong with it. We find escape ‘between the click of the light and the start of the dream’ and if ‘No Cars Go’ is the dream I want to live in it.
The minimalism of the self-titled song couldn’t be more different from ‘No Cars Go’. It sums up the theme of the album excellently in a two minute song, with Butler and Chassagne singing ‘Not much chance of survival / if the neon bible is right’. If Arcade Fire had just made a Christian-rock-band album, then Neon Bible could have been a weird little project on the side. However, the theme of an Orwellian religious threat is something completely original, at least from what I can tell. There’s nothing more frightening than a God that watches us every moment we are awake and Arcade Fire personify that silent threat into a perfect album full of scaremongering churches and a tacky, seedy side to religion which isn’t that far from the truth, considering some alarming truths that have come out in recent years from the Catholic Church.
The likes of ‘Intervention’, with it’s uplifting but misrerabilist anthems about soldiers and ‘(Antichrist Television Blue)’s rollicking acoustic in debt to Springsteen are some of the best cuts. The latter deals with fear of God (surprise), but brings a parental tale about a father and daughter, possibly facing death. Arcade Fire have a strange way of making songs about ‘Who here among us / Still believes in choice? Not I’ (from ‘Ocean of Noise’) into uplifting songs that tug at the heartstrings whilst breaking your heart at the same time.
If Funeral was your thing, Neon Bible is a very safe bet compared to the rusty americana and disco flavours of later releases. It retains the same youthful fear of everything and paints Arcade Fire as a band that matured since their first album, blossoming into beautiful, god-fearing humans just like the rest of us poor mortals.