Explosion in the sky

By By Miles Ridling

By Miles Ridling

Arcade FireNeon BibleMerge RecordsFour out of five stars

I first experienced Arcade Fire sitting in row 35, seat C, on Delta’s Flight 940 — a four-hour redeye flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, Ga. Delta’s Sky Radio devoted an entire channel to this relatively unknown band’s first full-length album, Funeral. I couldn’t stop listening. My four-hour flight from hell to hell evaporated into a blended cloud of rough orchestral indie-rock sounds and lead singer Win Butler’s introspective lyrics.

Suffice it to say, Funeral caused this sort of pleasure response in a whole lot of people — and since that large endorphin spill we’ve all been waiting. Some of us waited patiently; some of us waited like love-induced teenie-boppers. Well, the wait for Arcade Fire’s sophomore effort is over. Oh, and I do say, Neon Bible was worth the long wait (two years is a long time when you’re in love).

A marked bleed outward from the tunnels of introverted despair found in Funeral, Neon Bible centers on a more timely observation of the individual’s despair within greater social contexts: organized religion, consumerism, war, mass media and excreta.

This sort of lofty attack on isms and American/Western mantras is never an easy thing to pull off. So it’s surprising how well it actually works for Arcade Fire — although not perfectly. Some of Butler’s lyrics still come off as a bit clich/awkward: “Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Show me where them bombs will fall.” Luckily, a couple of things pull Neon Bible away from the precipices of complete clichd obscurity. Butler’s demoralized but prophetic harmonics help with a strange ability to carry ambiguously weighty lyrics, such as “If some night I don’t come home/ Please don’t think I’ve left you alone/ The same place animals go when they die/ You can’t climb across a mountain so high.”

But more than anything, I think it’s Arcade Fire’s newfound understanding of the emotional control instrumentation has over the listener. Neon Bible substitutes the brash guitars and fast-paced drums and piano of the overly confessional Funeral for a larger selection of instruments and a cleaner, more controlled crescendo/decrescendo structure.

All this musical control translates into a tastefully simple sound that plays like an Elizabeth Bishop poem. It’s so clean, so succinct within its overall musical form that even the smallest break from its overall structure can successfully encompass the desperate optimism in light of self-induced pressures and impending doom we spread across our island — Earth.

Neon Bible is both a “vial of hope and a vial of pain” that will certainly be lighting my nights for a while.