Drowned in Sound: Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

Drowned in Sound
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

What a year it has been so far for college radio. Just a few weeks ago, the Shins shocked everyone by reaching #2 on Billboard, unheard of for an indie act. Now that Canadian seven-piece Arcade Fire have done the exact same thing with their new album Neon Bible, it might be time for the mainstream to start paying attention.
Attention would be well-spent on Arcade Fire, who were riding almost as much buzz as the Shins after playing gigs alongside U2 and David Bowie. Comparisons to U2 would be accurate in spots, as "Keep the Car Running" recalls The Joshua Tree effortlessly. Arcade Fire stuck with the right part of U2's work, as evidenced by deceptively simple arrangements and a penchant for swelling anthems throughout most of Neon Bible. Some of the odd textures Arcade Fire like to sneak into the songs are even more impressive, ranging from mariachi brass to mandolins.
By seeming coincidence, one of the best songs on the Shins' latest shares a title with one of the best songs to be found here. The Shins gave us "Black Wave" in all of its quirky simplicity; the Arcade Fire do them one better with "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," a song with two clear halves that compliment each other perfectly. This album is so tightly composed that anything experimental, especially something this powerful, is a blessing of the grandest sort. Lead single "Black Mirror" is not quite as impressive, though it sounds oddly like Nirvana's acoustic work and seems to be a sensible place to start for the uninitiated.
Though often a boon to Arcade Fire, such overt influences become Neon Bible's Achilles heel. "Ocean of Noise" is a majestic song, but it's hard to shake the feeling that Robert Smith was asked to do some guest vocals on it. The culprit is frontman Win Butler, whose chameleon-like vocals are equally capable of imitating Smith, Bono and Bruce Springsteen at a moment's notice. Butler is an unusually gifted lyricist - "Windowstill" and "My Body Is A Cage" are especially poetic - but his voice isn't quite unique enough to make his words sound important. At least he doesn't go off-key, a sad rarity in the untamed wilderness of indie music. The excessive influences creep into the songwriting and musicianship as well, making the end result sound more like a well-crafted relic than a fresh new musical statement.
Neon Bible ends up a notch below the Shins' latest, and its derivative writing is the biggest reason why. The Shins didn't exactly have a perfect record either, but it was definitely original and represented the band beautifully. Aside from the inspired "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," the song that seems to best represent Arcade Fire (as opposed to the bands they like) is called "No Cars Go." There we find the greatest irony of all; it was on a previous release but re-recorded for this album, and therefore not really original.
Rating: 3 out of 5