Review Summary: The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" keeps their sound big; however, it suffers from being TOO big some of the time. Luckily that is one of the very few faults of the album.
The Arcade Fire is technically an indie rock band, and that's obvious from their sound. However, their sound conveys so much more that calling them “indie” seems a horrible misrepresentation. For one, they incorporate a virtual symphony of instruments into their sound, including (but not limited to) a pipe organ, hurdy gurdy, choir, and full orchestra. Their songs are also so diverse, not only in sound but in structure, that “experimental rock” almost seems more appropriate.
One of the effects of having so many instruments and the production mixing that was done is that nearly every single song on the album sounds extremely epic and cinematic. This is both one of the biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses of the album. On one hand, it brings a sweeping grandiosity to the songs. On the other hand, the album suffers from too much of a “big” sound when there are no subtle, quiet moments to balance it out.
As far as mood goes, this is one of the most contradictory albums ever. The lyrics are sparse, bleak, depressing, and delivered with a wavering intensity. However, the music that accompanies them is generally happy and optimistic sounding. Take “Black Waves/Bad Vibrations,” for instance. The first half of the song features very happy-sounding female vocals, then the song takes a twist and the usual lead singer comes in and suffocates with the nearly constant oceanic metaphors. Ironically, it's the last half that makes the song so good.
The folky “Keep the Car Running” is easily the best song on the album. So many instruments are used that it's hard to pick them out; however, they come together perfectly. The mandolins crackle, the rhythm section pulses, and the vocals create a gripping hold on your ears. “No Cars Go” is one of the few wholly optimistic songs on the album, so it should come as no surprise that it's a holdover from The Arcade Fire's early days. The song is thus time- and tour-worn, and it shows in the catchy likability of the track.
One of the big things I didn't like about the album is, despite the improved production, the band often sounds so far away, as if they're behind a shimmering wall of water. It's like the immense sound that they've constructed is echoing across a cathedral, with the music running down the walls and the vocals the only thing in the middle.
The Arcade Fire have built a reputation for creating exceptional experimental/indie rock. They certainly don't disappoint with this album; however, it sometimes suffers from trying to sound too big too much of the time.
Recommended Tracks: “Keep the Car Running,” “Intervention,” “Black Waves/Bad Vibrations”