Neon Bible (Merge)
Its title evoking sleaze, sin, and salvation, Arcade Fire's Neon Bible stares down the sophomore jinx with a pissed-off preacher's penetrating gaze. Whereas 2004's Funeral, which outpaced even Green Day's American Idiot and U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb for year-end accolades, was based around several family deaths that bonded these arty Montreal misfits with Texas roots (co-founder and general frontman Win Butler was raised in the Woodlands), LP No. 2 stems from tour buses, greenrooms, and hotels as the six (seven, eight, who knows?) postcollege friends became the toast of indie rock and wound up on CBS' Fashion Rocks with a bunch of Victoria's Secret models and David Bowie. And then tried to make sense of it all. Gifted (or cursed) with equal measures passion and cynicism, Butler weathers showbiz's moral contradictions and compromises without abandoning his belief in music's redemptive nature or its usefulness as a soapbox. Basically, he's either daydreaming of being the Antichrist or "singing hallelujah with fear in your heart." That's "Intervention," pretty churchy for a surefire hit single, but maybe that's just the ginormous pipe organ. Arcade Fire's anchorless two-year odyssey explains the dressing-room dilemma of "Black Mirror" and nautical bent of both "Ocean of Noise" and "The Well and the Lighthouse": "Ocean" is as languid and breezy as a Jimmy Buffett tune, while "Lighthouse," on the other hand, is a steely post-punk gallop with a swamp-pop coda where "lions and the lambs aren't sleeping yet." In "Windowsill," Butler ardently defends his adopted citizenship by calling on 9/11, Jeff Buckley, and the parable of the prodigal son. His inner Johnny Cash/prophet of doom has the wheel, but the grand rackets arranged by Owen Pallet and Butler's wife Régine Chassagne ("Keep the Car Running," "No Cars Go") insulate Neon Bible against any loss of CMJ cred. In the end, its true heart may lie closest to down-home closer "My Body Is a Cage." As Bono or Jack White could testify, there's salvation in the blues, and all the pipe organs in Canada aren't half as inspiring as a night at the crossroads.
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