the monolithic television continues to suck away our interest in other media, but i avoided it just long enough to get arcade fire’s neon bible from the local record shop on saturday. it’s...the kind of stuff i’d expect to hear while shopping for fancy vintage sneakers. i don’t mean to sneer at the hipster blog buzz that’s surrounded it; in fact, i think it’s lovely that the band has been able to do so well without a gigantic traditional marketing campaign. i do think, though, that it’s best enjoyed while doing something else. several tracks from their first album grab you by the scruff of your neck and demand your attention: i don’t remember where i first heard “power out,” for instance, because i stood there drooling until it was over. scope is part of the difference, i think: where funeral is a quirky but well-detailed short story collection, neon bible is self-consciously Big and Ponderous and sacrifices immediacy for intelligibility. i think the kooky instruments are a bit over the top as well: i like the glockenspiel as much as the next glockenspiel-liker, but it’s harder to enjoy it when it’s competing with guitar and a choir and a harp and a hurdy-gurdy. it’s been said that arcade fire will incorporate anything they can get their hands on, and while that’s cute, it makes for messy music. finally, from an utter craft-dork perspective, the packaging bugged me. funeral has a single xeroxed insert styled after a memorial service program, which was simple and kind of brilliant. the old-school vinyl bible holograph on the cover of neon bible* is pleasing – very satisfying to run your fingernails across, which one rarely has the excuse to do with the surface of a record – but the rest of the box is kind of annoying. the two enclosed flip books are only printed on one side; why waste the opportunity to print two more sequences? and the hard vinyl sleeve for the CD itself felt like an afterthought. radiohead gets away with huge inserts because their design is so good; arcade fire had something with funeral’s illo style and lost it with neon bible’s too-generic photos. they need to re-earn the right to fripperies, if that makes any sense.

*this is the special edition, admittedly; i’d have considered getting the regular one instead, but i have yet to find it in a store.


uncle paul said...

Aw that's too bad. I hadn't picked up Neon Bible because I had a premonition something like that might happen. Well we've all still got "Rebellion (Lies)."

tom said...

I respectfully dissent. A handful of songs on there are keepers. The rest of them are not god-awful (although "My Body Is A Cage" is somewhat hamhanded, and the remake of "No Cars Go" was totally overdone and undernecessary). But there needs to be a moment of awe for a hipster band that hits #2 on Billboard in this Paris Hilton world of ours. (File under: There Is Hope For The World Yet.)

[PS&BTW: Arcade Fire = victim of own glorious past. They may try for Power Out or Rebellion again. They'll never hit it, such was the wondrousness of those songs. And thus everything will seem like a vastly overhyped letdown. No tears, though--they're laughing all the way to the bank. (Laughing in two languages, of course.)]