Two and a half years after the Arcade Fire burst onto the scene at CMJ, frontman Win Butler is still scared shitless. “I don’t wanna work in a building downtown.” “I don’t wanna hear the noises on TV.” “I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay.” This is one paranoid sonofabitch (those are all lines from different songs, by the way). “I don’t wanna see it at my windowsill,” he coos painfully on “Windowsill,” referring to just about anything negative—wars, terror, MTV, debt, the Man, etc. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world indeed.
But then, that’s nothing new for these Canucks. Funeral‘s 2004 breakout was forged in the fires of loss, and the result was the loudest, most brazen wake ever made for $10,000.
Neon Bible is similarly burdened, only this time there’s far less hope. “There’s not much chance for survival/If the neon bible is right,” goes the title track. “There’s a fear I keep so deep/Knew its name before I could speak,” goes “Keep the Car Running.” Only humongous centerpiece “Intervention”—propelled by the humongous organ the band unearthed in the church it moved into to record the album—offers the sense of unwavering confidence that “Wake Up” did.
And that’s OK. Neon Bible isn’t nearly as grandiose, as naive as its predecessor. The band’s still outfitting their ramshackle sound with hurdy gurdies, accordions, horns, strings, and that humongous organ, but the songs here are generally more subdued, more nuanced. Unfortunately, there’s also more lyrical cow patties like “MTV, what have you done to me/Save my soul, set me free.” Dude, you’ve been living in a church in the middle of nowhere. Kurt Loder is not giving you the heebie-jeebies. So there are growing pains here, there’s doubt and sadness and confusion. And there’s fear.