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Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
Merge Records

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 escape.

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."

-Dan MacIntosh

Track Listing:
1. Black Mirror
2. Keep The Car Running
3. Neon Bible
4. Intervention
5. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
6. Ocean Of Noise
7. Well & The Lighthouse, The
8. Antichrist Television Blues
9. Windowsill
10. No Cars Go
My Body Is A Cage

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