‘Neon Bible’ turns 11: reflecting on an underrated masterpiece
This past Monday, Arcade Fire’s sophomore album, “Neon Bible,” turned eleven. “Neon Bible,” in my opinion, is one of the greatest albums ever made. It is the darker, younger sibling of Arcade Fire’s debut, “Funeral.” The album is a beautiful symphony of passion, pain and hope, and it carries with it all the artistic brilliance that made “Funeral” a great album.
The album begins with the song “Black Mirror,” which introduces the listener to the dark world in which the album exists. The following tracks, “Keep the Car Running” and “Neon Bible,” continue to build the world on the same themes as “Black Mirror.” If “Neon Bible” were to be described as a literary genre I feel like it would be best fitted as a dystopian novel. The album is subject to the pains of a hyper-consumerist world where everyone is a cog in the machine, similar to many aspects of the show “Black Mirror.”
But this world is not necessarily unique to “Neon Bible.” In fact, all of Arcade Fire’s albums harp on consumerism and free will in the commercialised world, “Neon Bible” presents this world in a way that is not heavy-handed and enhances the story of the album. Compare this presentation with that in Arcade Fire’s latest album, “Everything Now.” In “Everything Now” the band’s satirized, dystopian version of the world distracts from the music itself and is much more of a detriment than a benefit to the album.
The world that “Black Mirror,” “Keep The Car Running” and “Neon Bible” weave gets explored further in each additional track on “Neon Bible.” The tracks all build on each other in a rare form of world building in an album. The themes of this world get hammered home in each successive track, you can feel the tension of the album build up over the course of it. Through “Intervention,”Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” and “Ocean of Noise,” the feeling of despair in “Neon Bible” grows and becomes more and more overwhelming. There are glimmers of positive aspects in these tracks, but the overall feeling is one of darkness.
This is not to say that the album is depressing. Although the album is full of darkness, it exists in a way that tells a story more than reflects on its own hopelessness. In the later tracks you get a feeling of rebellion and hope. “The Well And The Lighthouse,” “(Antichrist Television Blues),” and “Windowsill” all exist in this same world and carry with them notions of despair and darkness, but in these songs you can see resistance to the world as it is. These tracks are all about building your own life through hardship, and while in many aspects they are the darkest of the album, their kernels of hope are more powerful than those in the other cuts.
“Neon Bible” ends with the songs “No Cars Go” and “My Body Is A Cage.” These two songs bring with them powerful feelings of experience, as it can best be described. These tracks are more abstract in message but more passionate in delivery than the others on the album. The darkness that exists throughout “Neon Bible” still exists in the last two tracks, but there is a definite change in the wider world of the album.
The album “Neon Bible,” is one that weaves story in an exquisite manner. In my opinion, one of Arcade Fire’s chief strengths is their ability to build story within an album, which can be seen in “Funeral” and “The Suburbs” as well. Arcade Fire, however, are incredible musicians as well as storytellers. Their signature chamber pop sound from “Funeral” continued through “Neon Bible.”
The passion of Win Butler and the band as a whole is apparent through the entire album. Butler’s voice at times even appears to quiver with the passion that he has for his music. The orchestration of the rest of the band blasts sound through your speakers in a way that you cannot help but be moved by, and the songs come together in a way so intense that you have no choice but to go with them.
Between its storytelling, passion and musicality, “Neon Bible” creates a deep, moving experience for the listener. Win Butler and the rest of Arcade Fire immerse the listener of the album into a world of their own perceptions, and in this world, “Neon Bible” flourishes. Over a decade later the album still holds up to the music being created today, and in the case of Arcade Fire’s own work, is significantly better. Arcade Fire created a powerful, passionate album which is an example of some of the finest music created in the 2000s and is still worth listening to in 2018.