Arcade Fire (EP)
Funeral (Merge, 2004)
Neon Bible (Merge, 2007)
Arcade Fire charged out of Montreal in the mid-2000s with five billion instruments, ten billion members (actually more like seven, but who's counting?), and a mission to save the world, or at least indie-rock. They're passionate, grand and loud, and they take everything very seriously, from their politics to their post-post-punk guitar tone. But when their terrific second album debuted at Number Two on the American charts, it suggested that they were the closest thing the decade had produced to a new Springsteen or U2.
There's not much to set the band's initially self-released debut EP apart from a thousand other earnest indie-rock releases: their bulked-up arrangements, maybe, or the juxtaposition of guitarist Win Butler's demanding quaver and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne's cooler, vaguely Björkish voice. You can tell they've got big ideas, and a hint of the live presence they were already developing comes through, but they haven't quite sharpened up their hooks yet.
Funeral, on the other hand, delivers the grandeur it promises. It's an epic song cycle about exiles large and small, from the lost Haiti of Chassagne's parents to the broken and alienated families in its four "Neighborhood" songs, and it's roof-smashingly dramatic, with crescendo piled upon crescendo and Butler hollering his convictions to the world. Any fist that doesn't shoot up in the air at "Rebellion (Lies)" should be examined for defects.
Maintaining that level of solemn intensity is a tall order, but Neon Bible more than pulls it off, with urgent classics like "Keep the Car Running," "Intervention," and the vaguely rockabilly (Antichrist Television Blues)". The album is as moving a document of what it felt like to be young and scared during the Bush Era as TV on the Radio's Dear Science, and though Win Butler sounds spooked, the core septet - accompanied by strings, brass and a choir or five —never sounds defeated, or even close.
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