Scott Sharpe, David Jones, Richard Folk do their vintage rockabilly this Saturday at Westville.
|never have we seen gals shimmy so smart.
Sat. March 17, 2007
At the moment you are reading this, in the United States, there are approximately three hundred million people listening to the Arcade Fire. Sure, a few of them just died in the seconds it took you to calculate whether or not that statement was true. But more were born, so, uh, you know…. Point is, more people now listen to the Arcade Fire than when you started reading this.Yes, this band has been on some kind of crazy, supercharged ride into the damn sky with the release of their debut album Funeral in 2004 (or 2005, depending on whether you live in the United Republic of the Arcade Fire or some other Arcadian province, respectively). Since then they’ve pretty much taken over respectable indie label Merge Records (take your shirt off!), been on Letterman and SNL, graced the cover of (Canadian) Time magazine, and warranted enough attention to necessitate a separate Wikipedia entry for each member of the band.
And then, where do all the mega-hyped-debut-album bands go after that? Why, the only place they can go!
I’m the first one to say it’s a shame that contractual obligations often force a group of musicians, drinking deep of the cup of virgin release success, to kick the empty Courvoisier bottles and used condoms out of the way, pick up instruments, and proceed to trade in their six months or so’s worth of superstar chips for a one way ticket to sophomore effort shitsville. Few groups can pull off an attempt to seem more credible than they actually were before anyone had heard of them, the somewhat notable exception being Weezer, who managed to do it only because they didn’t realize until their third album that their thick-ass black frames had become cool. Then, of course, though they disrupted the formula a bit, they followed suit. Maybe that’s why so many people just forgot about Pinkerton; it simply doesn’t make sense for such an album to exist. But I digress….
It is impossible to attempt proper analysis of Neon Bible (the album I’m supposed to have been reviewing this whole time) outside of the context it now appears, that being one in which the Arcade Fire is the King of All Bands of the Land and Sea. Unfortunately, the Arcade Fire has made no (or failed in any) attempt to surpass their previous effort. This is not to give the impression that Funeral should be considered a memorable collection of songs, even, but it did, at least, come out before it was decreed that bands should make albums that sound like “that Arcade Fire album.” With Neon Bible, the Arcade Fire has become pretty much another Arcade Fire cover band, of which there are many and counting. The Strokes/White Stripes it’s-cool-to-eat-meat-and-get-drunk days have been over for years, friends. Don your colonial garb, take some foreign herbs, and read why the jours du Feu d’Arcade are now numbered as well.
An album should always start off with a standout song. This has been standard practice for so long that everyone, from the most misspelled-band-loving adderall-chomping teenager to the guy who finds merit in a Casio keyboard demo, has come to expect it. Neon Bible instead begins with the song “Black Mirror.” Upon first listen, the reverb-laden and seemingly sporadic concert bass drum hits throughout, while impressing the listener with the band’s awesome access to expensive equipment, are misplaced and distracting. More exposure seals the song’s downfall, as one starts to wonder, “Why is that guy singing like that?” and then, later, why he is saying the things he is saying. Win Butler, the co-messiah of the Arcade Fire cult and primary vocalist on this song, took a chance on the previous album; memory fails as to which of the songs contains the purloined phrase, “a watched pot never boils,” but it’s there, and it’s pushing the limits of acceptability. Regardless, he cashed his bullshit-lyric check with that one and should really be careful about saying things like, “Black mirror knows no reflection,” and “Mirror mirror, on the wall/Show me where them bombs will fall.” (The latter of the two he says directly after a bunch of shit in French, and we all love Françoise Hardy, but this hombre is from Texas, for real.)
The next song has strings in it, which appeals to the intellectual side in all of us, who have at one point heard music that contained a string arrangement and, though knowing in our hearts it was “good music,” thought it was boring. More importantly, it’s Butler’s first attempt on the album to practice the stuff he learned in his Be Bruce Springsteen in Three Hours cassette tapes. This number ends with an abrupt whack on an undoubtedly expensive snare drum and creates a deliciously sublime and pleasant silence that is soon interrupted by the title track, not really worth describing except that it’s more of an idea for a bad song than a song at all.
The album continues with a song called “Intervention,” which shamelessly features a wildly inappropriate pipe organ and more forlorn alleycat-style singing and Poetry 101 lyrics. It does, to its credit, have the most noticeable interpretation of a melody in it yet, much of it provided by Butler’s wife, Régine Chassagne, who is actually something of a decent singer at points. It is her, when the smoke of track number four finally clears, who in a somewhat uncertain manner provides lead vocals on the next song, or at least half of it. “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” is a twofer, the first part a new wave (and I don’t use that term lightly, believe me) throwback (that one either), and the second a rude imposition of Butler’s morass of “The Boss” adulation. It could be the most Bruce Springsteeny of the Bruce Springsteenish vocal parts on the record, with the possible exception of most of the other songs he sings. Also, what might be references to the Beach Boys in the title of this song shall not go ignored. Nor can they really be explained, except that Brian Wilson used a bunch of wacky instruments on Pet Sounds, and now the Arcade Fire can afford to as well.
To spare the reader much more detailed analysis of this Neon Bible, the rest of this review can be summed up by saying that there are not really any standout songs on the album, and that the last song is not even as well-conceived as most of the others. I know that by saying this, it sounds as though I turned the music off after half of the album. Wish I would have. I give this album eighty-five stars, one for each member of the band, none of whom I want to feel “left out,” or “less of a Canadian.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times gave us a little shout today — hey, thanks, AC-T!
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