Arcade Fire’s first bit of publicity for Neon Bible was a toll-free phone number with an automated answering machine and a series of menus that, if navigated properly, would play the song ‘Intervention’. It was a worthy stunt, not just because the track sounded much more interesting through a fuzzy telephone earpiece than it does on record, but because the band that became the prototype for success via the Internet completely bypassed it as their first promotional tool. Funeral, their 2004 debut, took only months to become tied to the newfound power of the online press — praise from Pitchfork and the earliest mp3 blogs were the band’s launching pad to mainstream attention and huge sales figures for an indie release. The whole phenomenon made it seem like recording a sophomore album that would satisfy all parties would be damn near impossible, but they’ve pulled through with a record that rivals the first.
While Funeral wedded trendy ‘80s revivalism to a Goreyesque antiquity, Neon Bible favors a more modern take on the obsolete, revolving around images like television preachers, MTV, and toll-free hotlines. Appropriately, it’s a much more polished record. The songs tend less toward quick-fix twist endings, instead favoring stronger choruses and slower climaxes. Régine Chassagne’s accordion, while a fitting touch on Funeral, is replaced here with a wider variety of sounds — the bellowing organ on ‘Intervention’, the swelling brass sections of ‘Ocean of Noise’ and the rerecorded ‘No Cars Go’. Then there’s Win Butler’s voice: maybe it’s the stronger melodies, or maybe he got tired of being compared to David Byrne with every yelp or shout, but he’s instantly more appealing on this record.
The ‘80s anchors remain — most of it still sounds like Echo & the Bunnymen, and the closer even bears an odd resemblance to Phil Collins’s ‘In the Air Tonight’. But the cleaner production serves standouts like ‘The Well and the Lighthouse’ and ‘Keep the Car Running’ especially well. Overall, it’s varied enough to deter a slump, but they’re still the same band that got everyone blogging the first time around.