Review: Antidote for the Age: Arcade Fire's ‘Neon Bible’* - U2 Feedback

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Old 03-06-2007, 10:11 AM   #1
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Review: Antidote for the Age: Arcade Fire's ‘Neon Bible’*

By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor

What do you get when you mix politics and religion? Sometimes you get Ted Haggard. Sometimes you get a “Neon Bible.” Giving an old-school analog kick to the digital age, Arcade Fire cut and paste the provincial with the pyrotechnic, sort of like spewing gasoline on a candlelit dinner. An inner flame gives way to a wildfire of popularity.

At a time when even post-everything art rockers TV On The Radio decided sign to a major label, Arcade Fire hold the indie-torch high in a way that would make Ani DiFranco and Ian McKaye very proud. At a time when the recording technology tries to out-geek itself, the seven members of Arcade Fire just gather in a hollowed room with some microphones to make a mighty sound.

The follow-up to the fiercely magical “Funeral” forces its way into your soul via the headphones with intoxicating splendor. Something this multilayered and musically interesting is impossible to package in tidy little descriptions, but it’s still the rock writer’s job to try. Other writers have done a good job discussing the band’s sprawling ensemble, the marriage at the center, and what the musicality has to say about the limits of tech for tech’s sake. For this review, Win Butlers lyrics and message will take center stage.

This band steals from so many genres with such passion that there’s no point in reminding ourselves that the result is actually mind-bogglingly original. But it is. Here goes my summary: the epic and orchestral album is the new testament of twenty-first century pre-apocalypse folk rock informed by the old testament of twentieth century punk rock.

Butler left Texas for Canada, and the whole album singes with incendiary epistles littering the expatriate path out of Babylon. The title track takes the whole “Jesus Camp” nation to task. Put plainly: If their “Neon Bible” is right, the rest of us are screwed. Or as Win sings succinctly: “Not much chance for survival.”

By unpacking religious hypocrisy, the lyrics inevitably turn to the tragedy of our time. The haunting and troubling religious overtones of the Iraq War feel the full-force of a choir here. Four years into the carnage that is our Vietnam, “Intervention” insists that “Working for the church while your family dies” is a fraudulent faith that helps neither friend nor enemy. But by not naming names when reading an entire cultural paradigm the riot act, Butler’s lyrics have become a universal and thus timeless anti-war hymn.

How many young people have arrived at their first “real job” and shuddered with the thought of a life of tedium? Have you looked around the cubicle or the backroom and asked yourself, “What was I thinking?” The ripping anthemic “Antichrist Television Blues” offers Butler’s rebuttal in a wondrous renunciation of the ruinous routine of McJobbing wage work.

Amusingly, one online post I saw mis-titled this “Anarchist Television Blues,” which is more than appropriate, since the song has as much Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer in it as Bruce Springsteen. Somehow, I don’t think the Boss would be able wail with Butler’s intensity, “I'm through being cute/I'm through being nice/O tell me Lord/ Am I the Antichrist?” Moreover, it can be interpreted as a hymn for freedom, the emancipation found by young artists in creative unemployment, especially when the result of refusing is getting a gig as the singer in a band like Arcade Fire.

Butler’s love letter back to the Empire reaches its crescendo of indictment with the wickedly hypnotic “Windowsill.” The entire song constructs its critique around a refrain of negation, repeating what we “don’t want.” Rejecting not just endless war and shallow consumerism, Butler castrates patriarchy itself with his ultimate rejection, repeated often: “Don’t want to live in my father’s house no more.”

“My Body is a Cage” conjures a chilling end to this record. It’s sad then liberating, frustrated then ferocious. All in all, the song aptly captures the entire CD’s message and mood—an elegy to western dualism at its apex in twenty-first century alienation. Butler reminds, “I'm living in an age/ that calls darkness light. Though my language is dead/still the shapes fill my head.”

Why does music this sad and angry make me feel so good?

Because this record leaves the land and takes us swimming in an ocean of metaphor where we must face our fears, unmoored by the conventions of this society or its bland wannabe bands that will never ever produce a record this good. Because another review entirely could be written as a grad school essay on water imagery on “Neon Bible.” Because there are still places where “No Cars Go,” and this record takes us there. Because the band takes the “poison of our age” and transmutes it into an audio antidote of orchestral chaos and defiant bliss.

Because the symphonic and cinematic blasts begin to build like a tremor in my toes, followed by crawling goosepimples and chills over my whole body. Next, there’s the choir beaming sound like the crown of neon light from the tippy top of my head. At last, tender and totalizing tears cascading towards the computer keyboard. And I cue up the “Bible” to listen just one more time.

For more information on Arcade Fire, please visit the official website. “Neon Bible” was released March 6, 2007 on Merge Records.

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Old 03-06-2007, 04:39 PM   #2
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I've not heard the album but what a great review. I used to think I could write reviews like that, until I sat down and tried!

I will buy this album tomorrow - can't wait!

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Old 03-15-2007, 02:54 PM   #3
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excellent CD
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Old 03-16-2007, 03:30 PM   #4
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It's reached number one on the Billboard album charts for Rock, Indie, and Internet.
Stand up to rock stars!
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