OK, if you haven't heard of Arcade Fire yet, you've been marooned on a desert island. The band crept into American living spaces by way of TV, on NBC's Saturday Night Live, with a performance of "Intervention" and "Keep the Car Running," both off Neon Bible, the highly anticipated follow-up to Funeral.
While the comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and others have been a bit overdone, Neon Bible is an album that marks Arcade Fire's permanent place in the social mind, by defeating the sophomore slump, and recording an album that has surpassed many critics' wildest expectations. I heard some call this album dark, but that description does little justice to the complex themes that run through the album. Unlike Funeral, with its lyrical focus on relationships to community and family, Neon Bible leaves the den and explores larger social relationships and issues like war, religion, environment and media. For example, in the song "Windowsill," "I don't want to live in my father's house no more/I don't want to fight in holy war/Don't want the salesmen knocking at my door/I don't want to live in America no more." This is all done over beautifully arranged and understated sounds that exemplify what the band does best.
Don't get me wrong, Arcade Fire is never too slow or too distant. Rather, they find the perfect moments to explode anthemic pop hooks, and rein them in before it becomes stale.
Before the album's release, Arcade Fire played several shows at New York's Judson Memorial Church, and I began to worry that the band was heading toward a gimmicky end, as indie-rock evangelicals. But Neon Bible does not proselytize some over-reaching moral message; rather, it is an exploration of the dangers and contradictions of contemporary life. Neon Bible and its songs (or scriptures, as they may be) shine light on matters that are often left in the dark.