The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible

Neon Bible

2003 was a hard year for The Arcade Fire. They were about to make it big, having just released an EP and getting ready to record their first full-length album, when close friends and family members started dying off left and right. It was out of this period of darkness and pain that The Arcade Fire released Funeral in 2004, a majestic and sprawling album that couldn’t keep its mind off of death and God.

On their new album Neon Bible, it seems The Arcade Fire are mad at something, and that something is divine. I’m talking about the church. This album is full of problems that seem to have no solutions. But in the end, it all points back to one Person.

Black Mirror
This deep, dark song starts this album off quite…well, darkly. The lyrics speak of a black mirror that “know no reflection” yet at the same time casts your reflection back at you. It’s incredibly darker than anything that was on Funeral, and thus a very abrupt change in style. It’s also a perfect taste of what the rest of this album will sound like.

Keep the Car Running
This song would be a hit if it were released as a single in America. It’s brighter sounding than Black Mirror and has a steady beat. The song comes from the point of view of a man that is running from men that “are trying to take me away.” I think this is actually a great analogy for the Grim Reaper or Death. Thus, keep the car running so I can stay away from it.

Neon Bible
The title song is actually the quietest and shortest song on the album, coming in at a mere two minutes, sixteen seconds. It’s actually quite a pretty song, with little electronic blips and beeps coming in and out and the guitar picking out a sparse melody. The lyrics are cryptic and hard to decipher. It seems as if lead singer Win Butler is trying to get across the point that people in church now don’t learn for themselves, that they let the preacher tell them what to believe. This comes across in the line “What I know is what you know is right.” All in all, it’s all too short.

A huge church organ opens up this track, which is the closest the band gets to sounding like they did on Funeral. If you pay attention to the lyrics, it’s a scathing song talking about “working for the church while your family dies.” It seems as if the song is told from the perspective of a tired, hard-hearted person who’s just leading a hard life. But because they believe that the Church heals everything if you work for it faithfully, when you’re “singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart,” everything will be alright. But who knows, that’s just the way I see it

Black Wave/Bad Vibrations
Listening to the first part of this song makes me feel as if I’m watching The Never-Ending Story. I don’t know, it’s just me. Regine Chassagne, Win Butler’s wife, sings the lead on the first half of the song, telling a story from the point of view of a person that’s on the run from the law. Or maybe it’s the whole death thing again. There’s a swift change between lead vocalists, and Win takes over, singing on top of a thundering background of drums and guitars. He starts singing about how nothing lasts forever and a “great black wave in the middle of the sea for you and me.”

Ocean of Noise
This song is actually a lot calmer than its title suggests. Black Wave flows right into this song about a relationship gone bad. You know it’s going bad when there’s an “ocean of violence” between you and the one you’re with. The song starts out calmly, with sparse guitar and piano, but builds up into a nice crescendo with a full orchestra.

The Well and the Lighthouse
This song drives me crazy. Not because it’s a bad song. It is. It’s got an 80’s music type feel with some great harmonies. It’s just that I can’t figure out what the heck it’s about. It seems to be told from the point of view from a man serving time for a crime. He talks about hearing a voice in a well, saying, “See that silver shine?” Does that imply that he is doing time for stealing? Perhaps. It then moves on to him talking about being resurrected (being set free?) and living in a lighthouse.

(Antichrist Television Blues)
Now here’s how you write good lyrics. Win takes the position of a man praying to God, calling himself a good, God-fearing, Christian man and in the next breath asking God to make his daughter a star. The rest of the song is the man telling his daughter to go up on that stage so that people can see what God’s work really is, but he’s really in it for the money. The last is the punch line, “So tell me Lord, am I the antichrist?” Abrupt end.

A quiet, acoustic number that really builds up, Win trades in, the symbolic, cryptic imagery, for blunt, straightforward language, mentioning MTV and America by name. The song is a angry one, describing the thing the speaker doesn’t want to hear, that he doesn’t “want to see on his windowsill no more.” It builds into a huge, big chorus before finally ending the way it began.

No Cars Go
The simplest song lyrically, but probably the best on the record. The lyrics simply mention that they know a place where no planes, spaceships, cars, or any other form of transport go. Personally, I think it’s about heaven. The music really builds up on this, ending in a beautiful orchestral crescendo with the entire band singing a chorus of “ah’s” together.

My Body is A Cage
The album closer is another quiet, creepy one that turns huge in the end. Win starts singing about his body being a cage, keeping him from dancing with the one that he loves. The song slowly builds up, until the church organ comes crashing in again. And in the end, it all goes back to a prayer to the Divine, pleading to “set my spirit free.”


4 Replies to “The Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible”

  1. Thanks for your explanations of the songs. The way I’ve heard “No Cars Go” explained is from an environmental perspective – the desire to live in a world with no carbon footprint.

    The way I see Windowsill is simply a screed against President Bush’s America – the narrator doesn’t want to “fight in a holy war” (i.e., Iraq) and doesn’t want to live in a country that condones tourture (“I don’t want to show you what they done to me…I don’t want to choose black or blue, I don’t want to see what they done to you.”)

    And, of course, word on the street is that Antichrist Television Blues is about Jessica Simpson’s father. He wanted his daughter to be a Christian singer, but then became greedy and corrupted by money.

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