MUSIC REVIEW: Arcade Fire

Neon Bible Merge
Music ••• Sound •••
Whether the seven members of the Arcade Fire ever perform in arenas, they've got their music primed and ready. This Montreal outfit was the surprise indie-rock hit of 2004 with its debut album, Funeral, a spunky chunk of 1980s New Wave pop that channeled Talking Heads, Echo & the Bunnymen, and U2, joined by a string section that dreamed of even greater textures. With Neon Bible, the band has added its own arena noir, widening the soundstage with larger buckets of reverb and a huge wall of sound that's always on the verge of closing in. The circus keyboards swirl with the rickety clack of a carousel, and singer Win Butler shifts stylistically from David Bowie to Depeche Mode to vintage Bruce Springsteen with a chameleon's ease.

This echo canyon, however, also blunts the potential edge and blurs many worthy sights, until it feels like you're driving 100 mph through a petting zoo. Songs run over roadblocks and veer off course. They unfold in unconventional time, adhering to inner rhythms that make them prime candidates for intellectual deconstruction, since the dance floor won't be able to use them. That's not really a problem, since indie-rock kids have always chosen moping over dancing. But here, the Arcade Fire has started a counterrevolution - because while the darker side of its sound sprawls out in a slow, languid detonation ("My Body Is a Cage"), it still maintains a frilly shine that pleads for a mass audience. World devastation may be a shot away, as the lyrics of "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" and "Antichrist Television Blues" suggest, but that doesn't mean there isn't time for a nifty keyboard lick or a singer's exultant "welcome" to new fan-club members.

The band has written what could be the follow-up to Prefab Spout's 1988 hit "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" with "No Cars Go," which appeared in a drier arrangement on the AF's self-titled 2003 EP. Here, it's got a spirited stadium chant, a male/female duet courtesy of Butler and wife Régine Chassagne, and lively '80s synthesizers. It's Neon Bible's moment of release, well positioned as the penultimate track. And it makes you figure that while this eclectic ensemble has maybe taken on more than it - and we - can process, over time the Arcade Fire will narrow its focus and hit the bull's-eye with stunning force.

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