Let’s make this brief: Without Neon Bible, you do not know who Arcade Fire are. Without Neon Bible, to copy Arcade Fire’s style is not a thing critics say. This will continue when Arcade Fire are all dead, buried, and made saints in music’s electronic gospel database, all in bright shiny lights. When they are in their own… neon bible.
It is the album which gave the world Arcade Fire and told everyone to pay attention. It prepared us, as in The Suburbs and then Reflektor, Arcade Fire continued to produce the most Avant garde and socially conscious rock in the world, and still have it top the charts.
Neon Bible is an album that shows why the shuffle button is death to artistic intent. Do not even attempt to listen to it out of order. What if ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations’ is the first song played? A hard song to love at first or seventh listen, because of the jarring opening seconds. It is the first song to feature Régine Chassagne’s vocals at the forefront, at the very start. There is French. It does not make half as much sense on its own, certainly not musically. Yet it matters, it absolutely matters to the album.
In its melodies, across its array of instruments, Neon Bible is about flow. It is push and pull, rise and fall. ‘Black Mirror’ begins: it is sinister, gripping and layers ALL THE INSTRUMENTS on to one another, before falling gently down again into darkness. In many ways that is all the songs of Neon Bible – very few stay at the same level throughout. Only the eponymous track does. It is all the more beautiful for its simplicity, something which is rare on the album. There is never enough noise – ‘Ocean of Noise’ itself becomes utterly gorgeous by the closing minute, a world away from how it begins. After the roaring climax of ‘No Cars Go’ (which asks us to hope that we can find still somewhere peaceful and beautiful in the urban sprawl of the shrinking world) ‘My Body Is A Cage’ returns to a dark place. Yet it cannot hold back. Arcade Fire helped define our modern understanding of stadium rock with this album. It is bold, big, bonkers, beautiful.
Even without discussing the lyrics. Those which hold in the mind belong to ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’. A ballad to, and indictment of parental pressure on children, unfulfilled dreams, and faith, it is modern America encapsulated. Yes, Arcade Fire are Canadian. Their personal distance from the subject (as we observe it) does nothing to affect the quality of the writing. Still, like the rest of the album, they have to have their climax. As the lyrics become darker, the song becomes more infectious. Stamping feet and clapping along to the relentless beat, one’s joy cannot be contained. Even then, as the lyrics are more disturbing and angry, we will listen, because of the sound behind it all. Neon Bible is why music is still an art form. It is why we listen to songs for meaning, for energy, and for hope.
Neon Bible was released by Merge Records on 5th March 2007.