By Steven Burton
Following the success of their epic debut full-length, Funeral, Montreal’s Arcade Fire deal with the formidable task of living up to the hype by building another album dense with guitars, violins, claustrophobia, isolation, and glockenspiels. The results aren’t as consistently successful as on Funeral, but Neon Bible brings the band closer to securing their spot in the world of indie rock.
Here, frontman Win Butler has found an enemy in restraint, and that becomes quite obvious over the course of the album. The songs that fall short, such as the title track and the dirge of a closer “My Body Is a Cage,” do so because Butler restrains himself from going all-out, instead relying on quiet contemplation and subdued longing. But people can look to Elliott Smith for those things, and listeners deserve to hear Butler yelping about his brother and digging tunnels. Luckily, the band does focus a good portion of the album on these sorts of anthems. “Antichrist Television Blues” is a gloriously rollicking song that’s as indie-Springsteen as anything this side of The Hold Steady. “No Cars Go” recalls “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” with its energetic, pounding, banging-on-shit-with-drumsticks delivery.
However, emotions are most evident in “Intervention,” in which Butler, backed by the band and an immense pipe organ, muses on war, family, work, and religion—all themes that recur throughout the album. While the band’s full-length debut was based around a loose narrative of being trapped in an ice storm, Neon Bible finds the narrator trapped in a world of both obligations to family and work and fear surrounding war and religion. There are numerous references to things that the narrator doesn’t want to do, whether it’s die, “fight in a holy war,” or “work in a building downtown.” This claustrophobia, caused by modern expectations and paranoia, helps keep the album frantic and alive.