Arcade Fire is a beautiful enigma. You may not always
know what they're singing about, but they make you emotional every
time. Neon Bible, on the surface, appears to be a rant
either for or against religion. It doesn't solely concern God
stuff, mind you. But religion certainly plays into it.
The song "Neon Bible" suggests an alternate, non-denominational
faith; one illuminated by shaky modernistic beliefs, at best.
"Take the poison of your age/Don't lick your fingers when
you turn the page," vocalist Win Butler warns. Misplaced
religious hopes also play into "(Antichrist Television Blues)"
where a father believes his teen daughter is bound to become a
precocious musical prophet. "Cause I wanna put it up on the
TV screen/So the world can see what your true word means."
The single "Intervention" features stately church organ
and the feelings of miserable parishioners. "Working for
the church while your life falls apart/Singing halleluiah with
the fear in your heart." No pain, no godly gain, apparently.
Win Butler is like Jeremiah, The Weeping Prophet. When he sings/cries
Arcade Fire tunes, it's in a warbling, worrying voice. Even on
"The Well And The Lighthouse," sung over gentle, lullaby
chimes, he blubbers the baby to sleep. Singing lines like "The
lions and the lambs ain't sleeping yet" sure ain't reassuring.
Arcade Fire's music is mellow and meditative, for the most part,
although "(Antichrist Television Blues)" rolls and rocks
like latter day acoustic Sun Records rockabilly.
It's as though Arcade Fire is between The Rock (you know, the
big guy upstairs) and a hard place (terra firma). Organized religion
is a let-down, but the secular gospel - assuming there even is
one -- is equally empty. The term "gospel" means good
news, but nothing is either good or new from Butler's perspective.
On "Windowsill," Butler moans, "MTV, what have
you done to me? Save my soul, set me free!" On the same track
he comes off Morrissey-like hopeless by asking, "World
War III, when are you coming for me?" Morrissey, as you may
recall, sang "Come, Armageddon, Come" on "Everyday
Is Like Sunday," in a desperate attempt at obtaining emotional
On a slightly and rare lighter note, the group mirrors gospel
songs about heavenly longing with "No Cars Go." "We
know a place where no planes go/We know a place where no ships
go." But it's a place where the world's marginalized can
find peace at last. "Little babies?/Let's go!" "Women
and Children?/Let's go!" "Old folks?/Let's go!"
But it's presumably a blind faith, as it ends with: "Don't
know where we're going." With its rumbling-train rhythm and
The Waterboys-styled fanfare horns, it's this album's one
shot of optimistic adrenaline.
The disc closes with "My Body Is A Cage," which is
dirge-slow like the blues. Only these blues are also injected
with Phantom Of The Opera organ music. The song's
lyric also comments on the illusion of rock music success. "I'm
standing on a stage/Of fear and self-doubt/It's a hollow play/But
they'll clap anyway." Butler can take the stage every night
and cry out his pain, yet fans roar approval, as if on cue. There's
just something very wrong with this ironic picture, as though
these audiences are the recipients of Butler's complaints in "Black
Mirror." "The black mirror knows no reflection."
Arcade Fire ends the CD, and the song "My Body Is A Cage,"
by demanding, "Set my spirit free/Set my spirit free/Set
my body free." Butler knows that nothing in the material
world can open the locks to his cage. Yet he can't help but believe
there is a land somewhere where "cars don't go." Perhaps
this is a place where Butler can meet the True Light, rather than
the far too familiar antichrist and his neon bible.
Neon Bible is an album filled with fire and brimstone
preaching. It's well-crafted and powerful, but if you it makes
the Spirit move you at all, more than likely you'll be "singing
halleluiah with the fear in your heart."
1. Black Mirror
2. Keep The Car Running
3. Neon Bible
5. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
6. Ocean Of Noise
7. Well & The Lighthouse, The
8. Antichrist Television Blues
10. No Cars Go
My Body Is A Cage
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