It’s been a fantastic music year, so far. The Shins’ new album is excellent, as are those from The Broken West, Feist, and Son Volt. Leaked tracks from new albums by Modest Mouse, Wilco, and Maximo Park all show tremendous promise. Lurking in the distance is a new Radiohead album.
However, so far this year it’s been all about the new Arcade Fire album, Neon Bible, which was officially released today. Although I’ve been listening to the album for nearly six weeks (I did buy a legal copy from iTunes this morning), I chose not to write about it until it officially hit the shelves. I can finally say, to the world, that the album is stunning, living up to every ounce of hype they’ve received (See: pretty much every major music magazine and web site, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Saturday Night Live, etc.).
Many reviews say the album does not live up to their last release, Funeral. I say nonsense to that talk. Neon Bible is much, much better than Funeral, and Funeral was a damn fine album. The problem with Funeral was it was rather uneven and it was achingly obvious what the best track was. I don’t remember ever reading a review that didn’t agree that “Rebellion (Lies)” was the stand-out track. On Neon Bible, and one of five or six tracks can be reasonably argued to be the finest effort.
However, to me, the entire album revolves around track five, “Intervention.” I first heard “Intervention” on December 27, when a radio-rip from a BBC broadcast spread around the globe. As the final notes from the massive church organ faded away, the BBC announcer said, “If that doesn’t get you man, if that doesn’t get you somewhere special, <sigh>, well I feel sorry for you.” I was hooked, even without the prodding from the DJ. A couple weeks later a better copy hit the Internets, and by late January I owned a near CD-quality version. It’s safe to say I love the song, because its play count has already rocketed past 40. It’s also a reasonable assumption that there will be a new most played track in my iTunes library before July 4th. It’s an amazing, amazing track.
Fortunately, most of the rest of the album nearly matches that peak. “No Cars Go,” sounds like Unforgettable Fire-era U2. “Antichrist Television Blues” rolls with an undeniable, locomotive beat. The organ from “Intervention” returns, even more pronounced, for “My Body is a Cage.”
Arcade Fire manages to avoid the pretentiousness found all-too-often in indie rock while maintaining their indie cred, throws some serious pop hooks at your ears, along with some moments of musical genius. It’s a powerful, fantastic album that will be difficult to top as the year’s best.