Friday, March 9, 2007

Black Waves: "Neon Bible" by the Arcade Fire

Now that I've had a few days to let the Arcade Fire's new album sink in, I'd like to toss my two-cents into the global discussion (and it is global).

First of all, Neon Bible is somehow more direct and more mysterious than their debut album Funeral. The songs pack a stiffer punch on this one, the melodies are stronger and shaplier, and there are no vocal effects to distort Win's and Regine's (or anyone else's) voices.

None of this makes Neon Bible a simpler affair than Funeral, which contained jagged songs about vampires, power cuts, and a lovely Caribbean-tinged ballad about the Duvalier regime. Neon Bible is lyrically and musically more complex and mysterious than its predecessor. You've probably heard about--or more accurately, probably heard--the church organ, the multi-layered arrangements, the doom-obsessed lyrics, and the abrupt changes in melody and rhythm in some songs. You don't need me to tell you that the Arcade Fire are, first and foremost, a musical and tonal wonder. The interplay of the instruments is stunning: the basic rock tools of guitar, bass, and drums create a driving current, above which violins and pianos and glockenspiels swirl, sometimes dancing in and out of the music like strange spirits over the water, sometimes stirring the music to a fury, Win's and Regine's voices rising through the storm like the songs of castaways and sailors. Win Butler drifts from one persona to another on this album, now making you think of a blind prophet, now of a religious pilgirm, now and then of a disaffected modern city-dweller. The female voices, of which Regine's is the most prominent, act as a sort of chorus, in the old Greek sense...
My pretentious sea metaphors really come from the most haunting and memorable image from the album's lyrics (to my mind anyway): "there's a big black wave in the middle of the sea" from "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations."
A lot of critics and reviewers have emphasized this album's bad vibrations: many have called the album "despondent" or "miserable" while praising its musical sublimity. I can't agree with most reviewers here. The image of the black wave is the best one for Neon Bible, I think: apocalyptic and terrifying, but somehow exhilarating and uplifting. The Arcade Fire's music reminds me of one of Turner's storm- or seascapes, hence the water metaphor. There are black waves and raging storms-on-the-sea in Neon Bible's sound and atmosphere, but there are swirls of colour and light as well. Much like a Turner painting or a Greek or Renaissance tragedy. Albert Camus wrote that tragedy flourishes in periods of history that find themselves halfway-between a religious world of dark and mysterious forces (often violent) and a lighter, more human-centered world of reason and science. The album is called Neon Bible, after all. Modernity, sleaze, and urbanity plus holiness and revelation. Hmm, hmmm?

And yes, I am a pretentious pseudo-highbrow minge-dwelling cunt-ridden flange-cock.

Reviewers all over the world have called attention the album’s aura of sadness and paranoia. There is sadness and paranoia, of course, but as in tragedy it exhilarates us instead of dispiriting us. I don’t feel depressed or disturbed listening to Neon Bible so much as immersed in mystery and awe. There is something cleansing and inspiring about the experience of listneing to it in full.

Oh, you want song titles, do you? Well, my fave tracks are the "Intervention," "Black Waves/Bad Vibrations," and "No Cars Go" (that one ROCKS).

The passion, soul, and sheer musical force and imagination of this album will bowl you over. It's a sure contender for Album of the Year, for whatever that's worth. The only album this year that rivals Neon Bible in scope, ambition, and stunning music is The Good, The Bad, and the Queen. If you haven't already gone out and acquired this majestic album like the rest of the literate world, do so now. And don't get bowled over by a black tsunami on your way to the Virgin Megastore.

1 comment:

mymantaray said...

I think its quite amazing, however it surprises me so much that people can't see why there is a sense of apocalypse in this album and others in the present (Good, Bad, and the Queen). They say it makes them sad or depressed, well it should because that is the state of our endeavors. We all and the bands go out have a good time and are enjoying our lives, but we need not be blind and fail to acknowledge how the end is breathing down our neck.

Anyways good album review.