Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A whinge about the vagaries of success

Well the revue is over, and its safe to say it was a rousing success. A massive thank you to everyone who came out and supported us and you'll be glad to know your money went towards the $7000+ we donated to the Cancer Council.
Ok i should be back to some sort of regularity now, and to celebrate the tenth edition of my little ramblings i've decided to bite the bullet and unleash my whinge on Neon Bible i've been threatening to do since this rant's inception, ok brace yourselves...

When FUNERAL was released towards the tail-end of 2005, it slowly built the kind of word mouth fever almost anyone in the entertainment industry would kill for. Until it hit fever pitch and Montreal's Arcade Fire were receiving the kind of critical and artistic acclaims it takes most bands years to garner. Now when you've got backing from the likes of David Bowie and U2 plugging how good your debut is, you know you've struck onto something good. And don't get me wrong, the hype for FUNERAL was completely deserved, a thrilling, poignant and energetic set. To say that its follow up was meeting high expectations is nothing less than a total understatement.

So NEON BIBLE has been around for a number of months now, and still yet again its gotten the same kind of big-scale attention as its predecessor(witness Foo Fighters covering Keep The Car Running or Q Magazine's 5 star trumpeting). My gripe being that, well, its a disappointment. The key word here is: overblown.

Somewhere along the line, and i hate to say it, the Arcade Fire let all that fame and glory go to their head. Indicitave in the kind of forced wide-screen approach writ large on Neon Bible. Intense liner notes featuring flip books and moody photography, sampled thunder on opening track "Black Mirror", the ham-fisted attempt to turn "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" into a two part epic. These kind of touches are smeared throughout the album and the resulting effect is attempting to cram too many ideas into the band's already busy sound. This can lead to a drab mess, a fitting metaphor would be mixing too many colours untill all you have is an indistinct grey. The biggest offender being "(Antichrist Television Blues)" with its umpteen references to God, tedious guitarwork and needlessly drawn out length. The one time the band's bombastic ambition matches something musically interesting is in "Intervention." Restlessly, the song shifts through a series of key changes led by a massive hall-filling church organ.

The album's best moments though, are when it matches the energetic naivety of their debut. The ironic lilt of the title track, "Keep The Car Running" and its simple driving pulse, and the closing "My Body Is A Cage." The slow build of "Ocean of Noise" picks more carefully its rich pallete of brass, strings and harmonies so that when Win Butler wails over the top of "a sea of noise" you truly feel it.

I can't help but feel some of NEON BIBLE's flaws could be solved through production, as already mentioned, a lot of the mixes are drab and indistinct and Butler's voice, as earnestly humble as it is, just can't hold out to the army of overdubs he's attempting to front. Arcade Fire are a troupe of seven, but here they sometimes sound like a cacophonous ramble in the tens. The tracklisting too has no trajectory, flipping from bombastic epics to quirky ballads in no particular fashion leads to a numbing effect sometimes.

NEON BIBLE is not a bad album, there are still enough ideas and interesting lyrical themes here worthy of attention, but it typifies all the worst pitfalls that can befall a band who receive nothing but lofty praise, essentially killing any chance for growth they would be otherwise allowed.

Interestingly i would argue Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys and even Razorlight managed to overcome these adversities by consciously looking at their style and tweaking it in certain directions. For better or worse, Arcade Fire charged on with their ambitions, heedless to the subtleties and power their fame could afford. Nevertheless, i'm still a fan - and thanks to the plaudits praised on NEON BIBLE, theirs is still a career worth following.

*PHEW* right, no time for a second review - besides i think you might all be a bit used to the castrated format by now.

Here's some tracks that have been floating my boat.
Rilo Kiley - Dreamworld: managed to get my eager mitts on "Under The Blacklight", and it's really growing on me - watch this space for a review.
Something For Kate- The Futurist: the new single to promote their Best Of release confirming once again, SFK=Aussie Legends
Ben Folds - Bruised: the best thing about "The Bens" - namely Messrs. Folds, Kweller and Lee - simple pop song about love.
Bat For Lashes - Prescilla:i think i'm totally crushing on Natasha Khan - keep an eye on The Scene for a review soon.

Till next time,
Al Newstead

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