Somewhere between there (Funeral) and here Arcade Fire seem to have got big. Really, really big. “Sell out weeks at Brixton Academy in 30 seconds flat” big. “Trade a kidney on eBay for a ticket in a church” big. “Anticipate second album more than Gary Barlow anticipates breakfast” big… “Receive predictable critical backlash in response to sophomore release” big?
Ok, let’s do this now, and let’s do this quick. That pachyderm in the corner? He has to go. Neon Bible is not the last word in religious ruminations by a small army of semi-mental Canadians you may have been led to believe it was – hell, you could make a fair case for it not even being as good as Funeral – but my oh my, it’s close.
Really close. You could listen to (Antichrist Television Blues) on repeat for the next millennium without seeing the gap. You could queue up epochs of No Cars Go and fail to spot any room for improvement. You could soundtrack the birth of galaxies with a looped version of Intervention and believe that it could not be bettered.
And, to an extent, you’d be right. The Born To Run from the War On Terror Springsteenian bluster of (Antichrist Television Blues) is particularly brilliant; angry and confused; poetic, yet blue-collar blunt and rammed home on the back of the kind of all out cross-band instrumental attack that no-one, upon no-one, does as well.
But it’s in the shadow of this kind of quality that the imperfections start to show. Keep The Car Running feels out of place and is the least interesting thing here (yet still worth at least forty-thousand Razorlight singles). Win Butler drops the preacher act for an Elvis impersonation, everyone else drops the gravitas and sets instruments to fun, and it just doesn’t do what an Arcade Fire song should. Elsewhere, Neon Bible whispers along in darkly psychedelic fashion but lacks the expected big finish, while Black Wave/Bad Vibration is a microcosm of the whole phenomenon.
As fractured as the title suggests, the second half dwarfs the first. Win’s deranged televangelist battling Régine Chassagne’s delicate musings, and it’s no contest, especially when the band come down on his side. Sure, they were happy to noodle around half-heartedly behind her, but they mass behind him; offering meaty slabs of drums, reverb heavy bass and delicate dashes of keys to punctuate the sermon. It has the effect of making that initial Régine sung opening ninety seconds look a bit, well, average.
But only comparatively. Compared, for example, to the biblical church organ upon which the gothic army-of-the-damned percussion of My Body Is A Cage can slowly squeeze the last breath of life from Butler. On any normal scale it’d be topping out somewhere around the ‘fucking ace’ mark.
To criticise Neon Bible for not being perfect is as unfair as refusing to take the last, cutest dog in the pound because it has a cold nose. By any standards, excepting those which the band have, through deed, set, it’s a wondrous record.
The critical backlash? Not tonight Josephine…