August 25th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire

Writers are obsessive creatures, many of them (us?) worse than footballers with their lucky rabbits and left-shoe-firsts. I’ve seen many acknowlegements pages that thank a particular brand of pen, a restaurant owner, someone who leant the author a lucky sweater–anything in the writing environment that seems like it might have leant a charm to the process. Nothing is so common among these gratitudes to atmospheres as those to bands and albums listened to obsessively in the background while typing. The repeat button is a creative security blanket, and unlike a hunk of fur or crossed fingers, music is at least good company.

I say that all by way of making myself feel better about the fact that it’s a strange day in 2008 if I don’t listen to Intervention by The Arcade Fire six or seven times. I’m a sucker for the strings and the soar, the intensity of Win Butler’s histrionic vocals, the organ music… That is perhaps my perfect song.

I know, I know, I like a lot of schlock (full disclosure: the symmetrical purchase to Neon Bible in the twofer record-store deal was Metro Station by Metro Station). But I think I can recognize the good stuff when I hear it, and Arcade Fire seems to me to be making sonically complex, lyrically fascinating songs.

Some people find this band a little intense, and I believe Sasha Frere Jones thinks they’re one of the whitest bands ever (not touching that one)–so, not for everyone? And if you don’t like their music, I imagine you’re *really* dislike it: Arcade Fire are notable as much earnestness of message as they are for pyrotechnics of medium; the vocalists tell stories and embody characters within them, and those characters believe their stories. If you dig that sort of thing, this is a nice change from pop music (ie., Metro Station), who only ever embrace sincere emotion for romantic (“Kelsey, I’d swim the ocean for you / the ocean for you / the ocean for you / Oh, Kelsey”) or erotic (“I know you’re dying / to take off your clothes”) declarations.

Arcade Fire has a much much wider range of material. Their last album, Funeral seemed to me to about the dreamspace of the suburbs, the fantasies and nightmares of snowdays and boiling kettles, lonely children and lonely marriages. It was fascinating to see them build a world with these songs–Funeral is not a concept album, it’s not a linked narrative, but it is a creation larger than the individual songs. After you listen to the whole of it, you feel of that place, and partways in it.

*Neon Bible* really does take on the bible and relgion, particularly revivalist (is that a word? I’m trying to write this review with as little recourse as possible to outside opinions) Christianity, throughout the ages. One of the best pieces on the album is (Antichrist Television Blues) (no, I don’t know why the title is in parentheses). It’s the fairly straightforward story of a guy who hates working downtown parking cars and wants to serve God, so he grooms his young daughter as a singer of religious songs. She is successful, and he gets what he wants (whatever that is.) You feel like this is character who told himself lies and believed them, who really never got the exploitation in one he did, until the last line of the song, where he snaps, “So tell me how am I the Antichrist?” Like the endings of all my favourite short stories, this song ends with insight into both what came before and what might come next, but not nearly enough to feel you’ve got it fully nailed down.

Some of the less rocking songs are a bit dirgelike, and I actually dislike the first single, Black Mirror (I *think* it’s the first single). They do better on the soaring line than the sinking one, I can’t really repeat that enough. But they do do dreamy pretty well in most cases, though you have to listen a number of times to really get it (the title song) or perhaps never will (“Windowsill”). The music is still hyponontic, even when the song doesn’t make *total* sense.

Even when they don’t make sense, the lyrics are still strangely effective at being affective (“We can reach the sea / they won’t follow me”–what sea? who are they? why would they follow you? Well, I guess I’m into it now). For me, despite the strings and the soar, it is the lyrics that puts *Neon Bible* above the merely very cool. But I do think it’s that, too (organ music? hooray!)

I’m free today

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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