In 2005 the Arcade Fire gave us Funeral - and with it music was exciting again. No sooner had the music industry heard all 10 songs that it set about desperately trying to find the next source of this feeling. The well timed release of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah saw that band ride this wave with another stunningly exciting debut. So it's 2 years on and Clap Your Hands got in there first with their reply, so what of Neon Bible? Is this a one trick pony? Well, what do you do after such a powerful debut? As we are seeing with Some Loud Thunder, the answer is to play it cool and take it all down a notch. No such idea ever crossed the mind of Win Butler and co. when making Neon Bible. The agenda is clear here, take everything great about Funeral and times it by ten - reveal the iceberg. It's the sound of a band who know full well that they make big music. The best word to describe Neon Bible is massive. If you intend to listen to this album you will need to brush up on 'The Platoon Position', as mid way through the opening track Black Mirror you'll find yourself in need of a suitable body position to justify such grandiosity. It's triumphant music which is surprising considering all the previous themes of death, resentment and wasted life are at its heart and the inclusion of war and the demise of America it's thematically pretty bleak. Musically and stylistically it hasn't changed much from Funeral although it seems quite obvious that someone's been listening to Bruce Springsteen. So with the immortal words of The Boss "Just wrap your legs round these velvet ribs and strap your hands across my engines," I will begin with what will undoubtedly become a tired and over-used driving/cars metaphor to describe this album.
If the opening track with its rumble of thunder and deep, pounding drums is akin to the feeling of getting behind the wheel of a high performance vehicle then Keep The Car Running is the point where you come over the brow of a hill and see the open road ahead. The delicate guitar strum at the start hints at the pace ahead and makes your heart flutter with impending excitement.
Title track Neon Bible is the early stop at the service station to refuel when all women and children hear the words they dread. "Get what you need cos we're not stopping again." And with Intervention we are most certainly back at full speed. It's the grandest song on the album, shit it's the fucking grandest song this side of God Save The Queen (National Anthem not Sex Pistols.) Anyone frowning at my use of cuss words will see that they certainly are justified. Starting with a chapel organ the size of St Pauls Cathedral if every hair on your body doesn't stand on end consider yourself paralyzed. I don't know how this song will be played live as no building with a roof could possibly contain it.
Black Wave is pure Blondie with it's sublime melodies courtesy of Regine Chassagne, who until now has been the power house behind the backing vocals. Ocean Of Noise brings things down a notch with it's washes of strings and soft vocals but the driver of this car wasn't joking when he said we wouldn't be stopping again. This was merely a momentary drop in intensity before the full mariachi band bring this song to a glorious close.
The Well And The Lighthouse comes in with rapid pounding drums and Butler's frenzied vocals forever building and with Antichrist Television Blues The Boss really comes to the forefront. With it's strumming acoustic structure, passion fueled tales of working for the minimum wage and unstoppable tempo this would make Bruce wish he'd written it. As do many of these songs this one builds and builds to such tremendous heights then suddenly stops and makes you think that had it not stopped so suddenly you could very easily have shit yourself with joy. Windowsill is more of a slow builder but guess what, it lifts you up on yet another earth shattering wave of sound and rings you out at the end.
The inclusion of No Cars Go is the only questionable element to this album. Having heard its original form on the early EP this feels like all too familiar territory and even though it's been working out since its first appearance its inclusion here still feels a bit unnecessary.
Things are brought to an exhaustive close with My Body Is A Cage and please welcome back on to the stage, the huge fucking chapel organ. "My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key," sings Butler "Set my body free." This song is the end of a movie, it's the unfeasible tracking-crane-shot that lifts from close proximity and keeps on lifting, encompassing everything, showing us the whole picture. And with it's climax your body drops from the Platoon Position and though all your senses try to stop you, you press play again.
So to put this tired metaphor to rest, this is an awesome journey that covers a lot of ground. It never hits traffic, it sometimes slows down for safety reasons while passing through small villages but never opts for monotonous motorway driving and always takes the scenic route.