I wouldnâ€™t envy the task of following-up the accolades bestowed upon an album like Funeral. It was one of those fluke cultural bubbles, wherein a band rides a wave of impenetrable hype that escalates its record sales from 0 to pop-culture-reference-point in a matter of a few heavy-handed reviews. The trouble is The Arcade Fire deserves much of the praise, which goes against the whole nature of hype. Rarely do hyperbolically revered bands weather the storm of the invariable backlash when the second record hits.
Simply, Neon Bible is not as instantly rewarding as Funeral. First of all, the newness has worn off a bit, so its Pirates of The Caribbean schtick seems less fresh. This is no fault of the music itself, but, rather, the shortcuts lazy brains make when assessing cultural phenomena, as well as peoplesâ€™ innate tendency to focus on the negative. Itâ€™s a gripping, emotional record, but it takes an investment. And secondly, the hooks are less conspicuous but still clearly there. Iâ€™ve heard some complain of a lack of obvious choruses. My argument back is that it isnâ€™t pop music: choruses arenâ€™t required to get a point across or to make a song matter or even meaningful.
The Arcade Fire revels in bombast. From its intense live show to its frilly costumes, this band invests itself in the music without worrying about its hip quotient, which instantly makes the band some sort of strange animal to prod and poke with questions and curiosities. Its lyrics mine the politics of world-weary generalizations, but theyâ€™re relayed with such genuine conviction that itâ€™s hard to call foul.
I donâ€™t know why it took me two records to realize this, but Win Butlerâ€™s voice is eerily reminiscent of Echo & The Bunnymenâ€™s Ian McCulloch, particularly when he punches it up a few notches. The drama just emanates from him in a slightly vibrato wail. Itâ€™s neither ironic nor a pose. Butler means every word he sings, and I think that level of earnestness and persuasion is what so many people latch onto.
Musically, Neon Bible is not necessarily groundbreaking. The ensemble cast of musicians is not virgin territory. Neither is the plethora of working class Bruce Springsteen-isms. Bands have been emotionally and politically explosive since rock â€˜n rollâ€™s inception. What makes this band unique is that it takes slivers of the past and wears them like worn-out patches on a dingy jacket as it prepares to serenade a disconsolate mob with of the moment battle cries.