The Arcade Fire

Neon Bible

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Montreal, Canada's most beloved indie collective has finally issued its highly anticipated follow-up to 2004's emotive masterpiece Funeral. Written, produced, arranged and performed by the Arcade Fire and recorded during 2006 in Quebec, New York, Budapest and London with assistance from Markus Dravs (Bjork, Brian Eno) and Scott Colburn (Animal Collective), the album augments Arcade Fire's darkly luxurious instrumental tracks with an Eastern European orchestra, pipe organ, hurdy-gurdy and military choir.

This sophomore album finds lead singer Win Butler channeling '80s-era Springsteen in several tracks, the most obvious during "Building Downtown (Antichrist Television Blues)," a pleasant, bouncing number with lyrics ruminating on the incongruities of a culture that exploits children in the name of money and religion: "Dear God, would you send me a child?/ Oh! God, would you send me a child?/ 'Cause I wanna put it up on the TV screen/ So the world can see what your true word means." The deceptively simple "Keep the Car Running" also contains hints of The Boss, but with more of the Arcade Fire's own folk-pop flavor and marked by layers of synths.

There's plenty else on the album that's pure Arcade Fire goodness, however, and several tracks that are catchy and simply beautiful, inducing that goose-bump sense of appreciation you get with really well-written songs. The first single, "Intervention," is one of these, opening with dramatic pipe organ and carrying dark ruminations on the church and war: "Working for the church while your life falls apart/ Singing halleluiah with the fear in your heart/ Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home/ Hear the soldier groan, 'We'll go at it alone.'"

The title track is a lovely, simple piece built around acoustic guitar and light drums, with breathily sung vocals by Butler, while "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" is a New Wave-saturated, two-part pop song that opens with Régine Chassagne's high, youthful vocals echoing forcefully over dramatic strings; the second half builds into a pounding crescendo featuring Butler's singing.

More a dark look outward at society and its many ills than an intensely inward exploration of sorrow, Neon Bible — while not quite the magnum opus of its predecessor — is still a solid work from an über-talented group. 3.5 stars

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