Friday, March 30, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge, 2007)

Arcade Fire has grown from a scrappy indie band with a small voracious following to a pop powerhouse powered by websites and bloggers. This release continues their patented mix of anthemic, fist-pumping rockers and emotionally wrought power ballads. Although the indie crowd would probably blanch at the comparison, their musical growth really reminds me of the early records of Bruce Springsteen. Arcade Fire's first album, Funeral, was a wordy mix of lyrical images, drunk on the power of language much like Springsteen's debut, Greetings from Asbury Park NJ. And now, their second album Neon Bible shows eerie similarities to Springsteen's second, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. The music here is extended and grandiose, bordering on the street opera that classic rockers from Springsteen to The Who have mined. Accordions, strings and extra percussion fill out the sound, but the rocking songs still manage to develop a lumbering momentum making the opening "Black Mirror," "No Cars Go" and "Anarchist Television Blues" some of the best and most succinct statements on the album. They run into a little trouble when the tempos lag however. Vocalist Win Butler invests so much energy and emotion into his vocals that the music skirts dangerously close to parody at times. But almost of in spite of their self-inflicted limitations, the music works for the most part. They are so energetic and heart-on-the-sleeve emotional, that this album earned my grudging respect. Make no mistake, Arcade Fire may have been embraced by the indie crowd, but they are a classic rock band through and through. If you like early Springsteen or Pete Thownsend at his most ambitious, this is worthy of exploring. While they haven't improved enough as a band to have made their version of Born to Run, it will be interesting to see how this promising band continues to evolve.

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