Each track on Neon Bible is an immaculately planned epic, floating between military dirge and sermon of politics and loss. The album’s sound is rooted in colossal reverb and crowded arrangements, seemingly captured in a canyon during a storm. With orchestras, organs, and echoes, Arcade Fire has turned the stunning bedroom symphonies of 2004’s Funeral into oceans.
Calling on the grandiosity of Bruce Springsteen, the Polyphonic Spree, and Broken Social Scene, the best tracks pulse with the small touches and turns of a rich, bittersweet layer cake. The showpiece hymn of “Intervention” gradually piles its pocket orchestra – tinkling xylophone, twitching guitars, and coursing strings – on the warm glow of a church organ to construct a glorious, pulsing mass. After a distant wave’s crash, the gentle surf rhythms of “Ocean of Noise” ride a vamp into a ghostly throng of strings and horns, which are then left to stand alone in utter perfection.
“Antichrist Television Blues” plays like a Springsteen outtake, complete with 9/11 lyrical themes and “Pink Cadillac” vocal reverb, both of which fit pleasantly next to the cloudy geopolitics and clunky cultural invocations of “Windowsill.” An unnecessary but uplifting retread of “No Cars Go” (their self-released 2003 EP’s best track) leads into the slow-motion elegy of “My Body is a Cage.” As the climactic, echoing church organ slides away, the listener needs time to return to earth.
Even with slightly diminished charm, dampened hope, and the eventual auditory comedown, Neon Bible sings the right devotionals to follow a masterpiece and gives the band ample ammunition for their relentless, inspirational live performances. - Jeff Kozlowicki