Any serious music buff will tell you that a band’s second album is a make or break-type deal, especially if that band’s first release amassed enormous amounts of critical and commercial acclaim.
In the case of the Arcade Fire, I think it’s safe to say that their sophomore effort, Neon Bible, will make–or rather continue to make–the band’s already solid reputation within industry circles.
Rewind back to September 2004, when the Montreal-based outfit released their debut album, Funeral. The record immediately garnered extraordinary reviews from the independent local press to the New York Times. Overflowing with lush, textural sounds and endearingly sweet melodies, Funeral became a staple record for anyone who dared to call themselves fans of indie rock.
In juxtaposition, Neon Bible picks up where Funeral left off; the band perpetuates their signature sound of swooning, heartfelt melodies backed by an array of pleasantly uncommon instruments–accordions, harmoniums, harps, etc.
In terms of content, however, Neon Bible is a work far more diverse then both Funeral and other albums from bands of a similar feather. The Arcade Fire, in a sense, took a chance when recording this album, as it features a broader range of styles. Whereas Funeral was a slower-paced, more brooding album (it was inspired by the deaths of three different relatives of the band within one month), Neon Bible is more cheery than it is gloomy and introspective.
Recorded in a large church near the band’s hometown of Montreal, Neon Bible reflects this notion precisely; every track on the eleven-song album is spacious and grand, the layers of sound and instruments seemingly flowing through a tonal landscape of rich texture. Having worked around a giant pipe organ that the band found inside the church, the Arcade Fire produced, with the help of several musically-related friends (Wolf Parade, Calexico, Final Fantasy), an album of sonically epic proportions.
The standout tracks on this album—the unofficial “singles,” so to speak—are No Cars Go, The Well and the Lighthouse, Intervention and Keep The Car Running (the band performed the latter two songs on Saturday Night Live back in February). As a testament to the album’s diverse sound, all four of the aforementioned tracks differ immensely. No Cars Go showcase the band’s newfound penchant for a driving, fist-pumping melody, coupled with layers of almost heavenly violin orchestration. Intervention, on the other hand, makes full use of the discovered organ and provides the band with a soulful backing to an anthem-like song about misery and longing, harking back to the themes of Funeral.
That being said though, Neon Bible is not, for all intents and purposes, an amazing, ground-breaking album; those who are familiar with the previous work of the Arcade Fire will most likely peg it second to Funeral. For every good song on the record, there seems to be another one of mediocre quality (Rene, the female vocalist/instrumentalist, should steer clear of singing). It is, however, an album that remains true to the band’s unique sound, and even expands on it through use of several more interesting instruments, a more diverse body of songs, as well as impressively executed orchestration.
Overall, if you dug Funeral, buy this album to stay pleased with the Arcade Fire. And if you’re new to the band, buy this album to hear what serious instrumental talent and impeccable songwriting sounds like.