Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible"

While recording a live Arcade Fire show for NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” Bob Boilen remarks (paraphrased) that the members of Arcade Fire are not celebrities or rock stars, they are just incredible musicians. This statement is confirmed in Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible.” The songs are dark and somewhat mysterious and seem to come from a nervous cavity inside of songwriter, Win Butler. Nervous of what? Well, from their first album, “Funeral,” it seemed to be of growing up, of losing one’s innocence and of being ignored until one is considered an adult. The honest portrayal of childhood and loss of innocence on “Funeral” seem to question the Western World’s idea of "maturity" and "the real world.” However, in “Neon Bible,” the fear has become more concentrated. The images of war, dishonest religion and escape seems to be much more concentrated on the America we live in today, the darker side of our America. Personally, I had some trouble, at first, with this. I had trouble with the lyrics, “I don’t wanna live in America no more,” especially since the band is from Canada. And my judgment was corrupted after listening to their live broadcast on NPR. Don’t misunderstand me, the music was phenomenal. And not in the cliché way that things are phenomenal; their live show was phenomenal in the way that it didn’t seem likely. It did not seem real, of this world. Listening to the beginning of the show, I was reminded of Jason Heron’s comment about going to a show and asking yourself, “Is this next moment going to be the best thing I’ve ever heard?” The Arcade Fire opened the show by walking off the stage and directly into the crowd of the small theater, and with only acoustic instruments—one drum, a tambourine, an accordion, an acoustic bass, an acoustic guitar (no amplification or microphones)—began playing “Wake Up,” from their first album. The voices of the entire crowd singing the Ahhs and Ohhs, and then Win Butler’s first lines: “Something filled up my heart with nothing. Someone told me not to cry,” like a giant choir was, yeah, phenomenal. Were I there, very possibly the best thing I’ve ever heard. And once the band got onstage they started shuffling through much of their new stuff, which, on a first listen, was very compelling. However, during a break, the thing I’ve always feared at any live show—especially the ones that I have such anticipation for—Win Butler had to go into politics. “Are you guys really gonna vote for Rudi Guiliani?” and blah, blah, blah. He returned to this issue a few times through the show. My heart was broken. Honestly, I was only kinda excited when I went to a Target store in Tucson, AZ last Tuesday and found the album on sale for 7 bucks. I bought it; that is what I went there for. But, like I mentioned earlier, was very biased at my first listen. Why are these guys using their platform to TALK about an American election that probably will not have major effects on Canada. At least, not any drastic effects that could be saved by electing Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama. Why is he bring this up 2 years before the election? Will he be part of the same group that complains when the “my-opponent-sucks” campaigns start 8 months before the actual vote? [side question: is it alright to talk politics onstage? if not, are there exceptions? who would you rather listen to ramble about politics? eddie vedder? bono? willie nelson? bob dylan? win butler? –mind you, we’re discussing TALKING politics, not singing about them]

Anyways, all this to say, eventually, the album had the power to transcend my bias. The songs, they have this power to them that I’m going to try to write about. First off, their sound is uniquely theirs. A long time ago, Bono was asked how U2 achieved such a unique sound, and his response was that when they began playing, none of them knew how to play their instruments. Thus, it would follow that what came out was something nobody has heard before. The Arcade Fire has achieved this moreso with “Neon Bible” than with “Funeral,” though not because they don’t know how to play their instruments. The songs move forward like city transport, waiting for nobody, constant, taking you where you expect them to, but in a good way, like for the same reason that you got on the bus in the first place. At times, the lyrics become vague and dreamlike, but are redeemed in such songs as “Keep the Car Running,” and the eerie closer, “My Body is a Cage.” The organ in “Intervention,” is haunting and appropriate. And one of my favorites, "Ocean of Noise," is driven darkly with the sounds of thunder, a poppy bass lick and the low bass clef notes of the piano. The cure-esque sound of "(antichrist television blues)" lends soulful, honest words to the fear that this album is so concentrated around: the fear of living in a country in war, the post-9/11 America, the feeling that the "new" thing we crave, will never come, and the desire to escape.

"Neon Fire" is a great second album, but may be an album that is heavily listened to at first, and then becomes a situational album. The dark, quivering tones of the album may become a bit too much when you're trying to eat dinner or clean the bathroom. However, if it is dark, and you, too, are feeling dark and overwhelmed and scared, this album is right at home in the speakers of your vehicle, like friends over the phone, coffee, or good tobacco. It is music that will accompany you when you, too, do not want to be alone.

-j.s.

10 comments:

Jason Heron said...

Jason,
This was a pretty great post. I just wanted to say that. I still haven't sat down and listened - I mean LISTENED - to Neon Bible, though I've loved every single thing I've heard from it.
Anyway - I'd even think about writing a review of your review, which is a good sign. We ought to be able to write criticism that deserves criticism. Good show.

stacey said...

ENGLISH NERDS!!!

jason shrontz said...

j
thank you. i admit that i was actually somewhat insecure about it. really, im not being sarcastic. im also, as you may know, often insecure about people interpreting my comments as sarcasm; i've recently learned that anxiety over misinterpretation of text is a common trait post-structuralism theory in literature, though I'm not sure how it is close. but, i did labor a bit over this review, as it was my 1st as a corpser, and i wanted to be very honest, objective, and impress the other corpsers. so, thanks.
j

Tim Horsman said...

I have to say that, yes, this is a great post. More importantly, this is a great album.

When I listen to most music these days, I don't usually have time to process the lyrics (due to "chatter"). Most times the "important" things that a band wants to tell me get lost among the other sounds in my life. It was great to hear what Win Butler was actually trying to tell me...I had listened to the album probably 10 times through, but didn't hear the lyric, "Don't wanna to live in America no more" until after reading the post.

This is interesting to me as a Canadian living in America, not unlike Mr Butler...I would like to hear why he thinks that, because there are definitely days that I get frustrated with the American mindset. When you are a Canadian living in Canada, when someone in the media or whatever mentions American, you think, "That's me." But when you become a Canadian living in America, you differentiate ("That's them"). I love having that little piece that can look down my nose at American foreign policy or treatment of "the poor" while reveling in my middle-class American lifestyle. (Here's the trick, unless I told you, you wouldn't know I was Canadian -- other immigrants don't have this luxury.)

Wow, this comment had NOTHING to do with the album, which is one of my favorite in the avalanche of new music that has come my way (Apples in Stereo, El Perro del Mar, M Ward, Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Decemberists old "Picaresque" - all great).

jason shrontz said...

i knew you were canadian, tim. but, im not sure how. the nice thing about canada, and so many other countries, is that people can't critique the way they things, because nobody seems to know anything about them. canada, for example, i could not complain about a single detail. all i know is that healthcare is provided and marijuana is only vaguely legal. and, i think the parliament fits in somewhere. thats the benefit of living in a non-loudmouth country. i mean, a loud country has its benefits, too; i like my country. but i'd also like to live in a quiet country, someday. canada would be great: arcade fire, neil young, avril lavigne...

jason shrontz said...

i knew you were canadian, tim. but, im not sure how. the nice thing about canada, and so many other countries, is that people can't critique the way they things, because nobody seems to know anything about them. canada, for example, i could not complain about a single detail. all i know is that healthcare is provided and marijuana is only vaguely legal. and, i think the parliament fits in somewhere. thats the benefit of living in a non-loudmouth country. i mean, a loud country has its benefits, too; i like my country. but i'd also like to live in a quiet country, someday. canada would be great: arcade fire, neil young, avril lavigne...

jason shrontz said...

i knew you were canadian, tim. but, im not sure how. the nice thing about canada, and so many other countries, is that people can't critique the way they things, because nobody seems to know anything about them. canada, for example, i could not complain about a single detail. all i know is that healthcare is provided and marijuana is only vaguely legal. and, i think the parliament fits in somewhere. thats the benefit of living in a non-loudmouth country. i mean, a loud country has its benefits, too; i like my country. but i'd also like to live in a quiet country, someday. canada would be great: arcade fire, neil young, avril lavigne...

jason shrontz said...

not sure how that happened. happened. happened. happened.

Alex Hershey said...

thanks for the review mr. shrontz. I really like the disc and i think you may have hit the nail on the head with everything you said. all i can add is that Antichrist television blues is my favorite song.
Also doesn't everyone love pop-politics. I don't care what hillary, obama, ruby, bush, kerry, etc. have to say about politics and i care even less about what rock stars have to say, well i take that back i probably do care more about what rock stars say.

Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.