Arcade Fire is one of those rare bands who have seemingly always been under the spotlight. Behind an amazing live show and a self-released EP, the group was signed to Merge Records, where a great deal of excitement built for their debut Funeral. After that release, the group went all over the world touring, then set out creating their follow-up, which has been followed and anticipated with an almost breathless amount of excitement in many circles since it was announced.
In many ways, Neon Bible sounds just like I imagined it would. It's more expansive, tackling larger subjects lyrically while throwing even more unique instrumentation into the mix. It makes use of some very peculiar, but effective production in places, calling to mind a definite 80s influence while largely refusing to play it safe. For the most part, it's the sophomore release without the stumble. Like their debut, the opening half of the release is nearly airtight, with song after song that absolutely lock into your head. Opener "Black Mirror" gets things going with a claustrophobic feel, with a driving rhythmic track touched with swirling vocal effects, dense string arrangements, and flourishes of horns that give it the feel of a fairy tale gone bad.
If the opener was a dive into the deep waters, "Keep The Car Running" shoots back upward and parts the clouds with bright, layered instrumentation and a gait that reminds one of "I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen. In many ways, "Intervention" is one of the biggest sounding songs on the release, opening with powerful pipe organ and acoustic guitar before building gradually into a soaring, grandiose piece that's one of the most powerful things the group has ever laid to tape.
From there out, the album veers even more wildly, with the two part "Black Wave / Bad Vibrations" cramming two disparate sounds into one short track. Opening with a sort of dark wave Go-Go's sounding section led with vocals by Régine Chassagne, it morphs into a dark and downcast rumbler that grinds things out through the finale. Their blending of styles is apparent on just about every song on the album, as a track like "The Well And The Lighthouse" sounds like it's going to be a fairly straightforward jangling indie-rock track until the string and brass blasted choruses hit and push it into new and graceful territory.
Because of the jumpy styles and constant changes, Neon Bible is an album that really truly works as an album. There are a couple weaker spots, like the samba-touched "Ocean of Noise" and the somewhat bland "Windowstill" (which is dinged further by some of the more obvious lyrics on the album), but the group powers past those moments with more than enough standout tracks. Even the morose closer "My Body Is A Cage" blooms with an unexpected blast of pipe organ and drums that along with the reworking of "No Cars Go" (from their first EP) ends Neon Bible very strongly. Unlike a lot of bands who stumble badly on their second album (especially when there's a lot of outside expectations), Arcade Fire have put together another solid effort that should mark them as one of the more adventurous indie rock bands creating music right now.