Arcade Fire has crafted an intellectual, creative, and almost entirely boring second album.
When I hear Funeral, I hear an album born out of necessity. I hear a group so haunted by the spectre of death that the only way to escape its demons is to hide in the sanctity of music. I hear the cold realities of life, set to song, and frantic, paranoid energy.
With Neon Bible, I hear conflict. Not in the music itself, but in the direction. Maybe unsurprisingly, the group sounds unsure where to take the most anticipated indie album of the decade. The result is incohesive and occasionally awkward — most notably in the transition from “Intervention,” the most Funereal track on the album, and “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” a sterile, digital song that’s far removed from any semblance of emotion. Likewise, the inclusion of a re-recorded “No Cars Go,” one of the group’s most popular songs, is perplexing. Though it’s hard to deny the song benefits from the greater production and faster tempo, the song’s notoriety immediately separates it from the rest of the album, further damaging Bible‘s concept of a whole.
The second coming of Arcade Fire doesn’t lack inventiveness. Neon Bible is not dumbed-down; the songwriting on Funeral wasn’t a fluke. There are moments of intense creativity, like when “Ocean of Noise” breaks through its dark, lounge atmosphere and a cluster of island horns unfurl. But, while I can appreciate the musicianship involved in such a transition, it doesn’t make me feel anything, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, that’s the sole reason I listen to music. The new direction is subdued and detached, abstract and millennial. It’s difficult to cozy up to.
When the band does get emotional, they sound like they’re doing so because their first album put them in the position of having to. “Antichrist Television Blues” is a raucous number, one of a handful of songs which evoke Springsteen. The tune is catchy, but Butler’s immediacy is entirely unconvincing. When you listen to the lyrics, it’s easy to tell why — he’s singing about Joe Simpson. As in, the father of Jessica and Ashlee. There’s a complete disconnect between the singer and the subject, and it shows.
That, on the whole, is why Neon Bible fails, and was probably doomed to from the start. With Funeral, Arcade Fire released an incredible, incredibly personal album. But it was an album built on epic personal catastrophe, and those just don’t happen everyday. Neon Bible has all the ingredients of a successful second album — it’s shinier, and from a technical standpoint it moves in different directions successfully. But under the surface it sounds hollow, because it has no soul. On their second album, Arcade Fire is interpreting frantic, paranoid energy instead of harnessing it. And those just aren’t the same thing.
“Intervention” on SNL
“Keep The Car Running” on SNL