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coverpic flag Canada - Full Moon 129 - 04/02/07

Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
Merge Records

Let's just put the cards on the table: Neon Bible, is at least sonically worthy of being the follow up to Funeral - the same way Pavement's studio polished and well written Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was the perfect anecdote for their paramount garage debut, Slanted & Enchanted. They've rid themselves of the high end guitar and honky pianos so metallic that made their initial material feel nearly industrial - Neon Bible in comparison is about as clear as a "Black Mirror". What really holds them, this life changing septet that has made ELO sound like it got a kick in the ass from Danny Elfman, from repeating a triumph in narrative strength is the story line to this new lyrical is about as lame and viable as the cover art.

Funeral was a perfect teenage-revolt epic, probably the best rock has seen of it's kind since "The End" by the Doors... or even Oedipus Rex itself. The problem is they can't sell their new found maturity in working class dramas like "working for the church while my family dies". These chants from Win Butler on "Intervention" hits more like that John Mellencamp song in that Chevy commercial than a more worthy target like the harrowing folk brilliance of Springsteen's Nebraska or Devils & Dust.

The queasiness doesn't last forever-the songs in which Butler ditches the 18th century labor mills to talk about his own experience is where Arcade Fire truly echoes their past achievements. "My Body is a Cage" reveals the front man, at least in some character, to be deathly afraid of the limelight and longing for companionship. It's a brilliant epitaph that outsmarts their last curtain closer "In the Backseat".

Needless to say that, even if departed from their tattered, hotel room recording strategies, Arcade Fire's textures never cease to be darkly attractive and seductively harrowing. The Gothic Cathedral organs of "Intervention" and "My Body Is A Cage" ravish and frighten the deepest chasms of the punk's soul. At the same time, you can't help but laugh at how much you feel like you're listening to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. Arguably the most effective arrangement is the ironically titled "Ocean of Noise"-a beautiful Spanish brass ballad where suddenly we've gone from Phantom to Evita. Once again, the blue collar banter is absent, allowing the honest and elegant theatrics of this band to be forthright and unhindered.

It should be no surprise that a band as inventive as Arcade Fire has developed a new way to dissatisfy - by trying to grow up too fast. Unfortunately for any competition, so many bands (especially the execrable pop punk from their homeland) have been bogged by the opposite problem.

Copyright © 2007 Matthew DeMello e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Arcade Fire articles/reviews: Funeral, Reflektor.

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