Sharing a name with Tom Kennedy Toole’s novel, Neon Bible falls short of its predecessor Funeral, featuring more abrasive lyrics and a rather disappointing experimentation with new sounds. The band draws on less-personal issues for its lyrics, included a pipe organ and recorded the music within the confines of a church, which almost brings too much sound to the record. Having seen the Arcade Fire in concert, many of the songs become more powerful in live performances, bringing goose bumps to one’s skin. Neon Bible’s songs were written with this same intention, offering more of a crescendo effect rather than raw emotion throughout the whole song.
Because lead singer Win Butler had years to write the songs found on Funeral, the lyrics on the band’s first full-length album tend to be more emotional — dealing with the many deaths that occurred within the band member’s families during the period prior to the record’s release. Neon Bible’s lyrics are more focused on political issues, with songs constructed in a way similar to Bruce Springsteen’s. Quite possibly the most controversial — not to mention poorly written — lyrics are from the song “Windowsill,” such as “Don’t want to fight in a holy war / Don’t want the salesman knocking at my door / I don’t want to live in America no more.”
Equally as bad are lyrics from “Black Mirror,” which exudes a dark, moody feeling, falling perilously close to Evanescence and the ever-dreadful Linkin Park. The lyrics to “Black Mirror” are haphazardly conceived and almost painfully bad, with lines like “Mirror, mirror on the wall / Show me where them bombs will fall” sounding like the band just gave up and stole the lyrics Green Day decided not to include on American Idiot. Butler’s lyrics are accompanied by a frantic drumbeat that completes the dark aesthetic the song attempts to present.
However, few bands can pull off orchestral arrangements and the inclusion of so many instruments and sounds as skillfully as the Arcade Fire did in Funeral. Neon Bible takes this sound to the next level, expanding it with the use of a pipe organ and other instruments. Arcade Fire is on the edge of disaster with the inclusion of a few new sounds that are distracting and overwhelming, such as the aforementioned pipe organ. The use of the organ in the song “Intervention” is a step in an interesting direction, but its constant overuse throughout the whole song ultimately ends up overwhelming the other instruments’ ability to add to the musical quality of the piece. In a live version of “Intervention,” the organ is supplemented by violins that provide more pure and pleasing melodies, instead of the raw sound produced by the organ.
Not all the songs are horrible — “Ocean of Noise” and “Keep the Car Running” present solid beats and decent lyrics — but, Neon Bible would have been better produced as an EP, allowing the Arcade Fire to experiment with sound while not embarrassing themselves with a full-length album of what ultimately amounts to an admirable experiment gone disappointingly awry.