Whisky & Culture

Arcade classics

The Arcade Fire are on the verge of superstardom.Lew Guthrie III checks out their credentials and reviews new album The Neon Bible
By Lew Guthrie
March 2007 and The Arcade Fire are coming in like lambs and will leave like lions. As I write this feature they are playing small churches in England. By the time you read it, they will be selling tickets for arenas across the world.It’s rare we get to see a band in a state of metamorphosis, but there are precedents. More than 25 years ago, flushed with the success of Boy and October, U2 supported The Police in Gateshead. Punk had washed away bloated stadium rock and as the 80s clicked in the search was on for a new music.Those of us who witnessed the young Irish band that day in the North East were as much amazed at the loyalty and enthusiasm of their legion of fans as we were by their show.Within months War had been released and it all fell in to place as U2 blossomed in to butterflies and became the biggest band on the planet.Is something similar happening here? And if it is are The Arcade Fire about to become butterflies or something altogether more disturbing – great black moths flitting and flapping around contemporary music’s burning light? Are they more Bunnymen thanU2?The Arcade Fire are from Canada and they arrived in some style when they produced the album of 2005 in Funeral. So is the follow up a worthy step forward for the band?First off, if ever a band could be compared to whisky it’s The Arcade Fire. They are a big aged sherried whisky of a band, a complex concoction of flavours that reveal themselves slowly.This is no easy ride; this is a cask strength band and the first taste is harsh and acerbic. Give them time to breathe, though, and you’re rewarded with a deeply satisfying listening experience.The first reference point is Talking Heads, the plaintive vocals and the edgy orchestral arrangements recalling Byrne and Co. But a far better guide to the seam The Arcade Fire are mining is Nick Cave. In keeping with the times, it rejects imperialism and American war mongery, but offers a dark carnival of a future. New Year’s Day this is not.But Neon Bible is worth the effort and has its easier moments.Keep The Car Running, for instance is a Springsteen-like upbeat shuffle of a song, and the wordy and outstanding Antichrist Television Blues is another Springsteen moment, this time with Abba-like piano line and driving female backing vocals. And Ocean of Noise, which contrarily is anything but, is arguably the album’s prettiest moment.But this album’s after taste comes courtesy of the darkest moments, the heavy church organ and choir-like vocals on Intervention, the brass burst and angst on Windowsill, and the religious-soaked lyrics throughout. Windowsill, for instance: MTV, what have you done to me? Save my soul and set me free!I can’t breathe! I can’t see!World War III when are you coming for me?Been kicking up sparks, we set the flames free.Neon Bible is just as the title suggests – a rant at how religion has been cheapened, commercialised and exploited by war mongers and politicians. It is a cry of despair. “Working for the Church while your life falls apart, Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart,” they sing on Intervention.“Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home Hear the soldiers groan ‘we’ll go it alone,’ hear the soldiers groan ‘we’ll go it alone’” The album ends with two monster tracks, No Cars Go and My Body Is A Cage. The former is a romping, brass-fuelled dualvocal that tries to reach for the stars; the latter crashes back to earth again, starting off as a pleading whisper and grows in to the sort of epic that recalls Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd at its most potent.It ends with the line “set my spirit free.” It’s a reconciliation of sorts. The final shout of an exhausting, dramatic, thrilling and epic album. The Arcade Fire are set to devour all before them.