The Arcade Fire's epic rock sound is a variation on Bruce Springteen's Born to Run for the indie generation. Win Butler's vocals even sound like Springsteen on Neon Bible's most pop-oriented track, "Keep the Car Running." Like the highway jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive, "Keep the Car Running" is an engine-revving search for life's escape route.
The Arcade Fire/Springsteen comparison is a worthy context for examining how indie values have changed rock over the past 20 years. The Boss' ballads were New Jersey working-class anthems that told stories about everyday people. Arcade Fire is heady, poetic, baroque rock from Montreal. Their verses are tinged with lyrical abstractions, backed by an aural sophistication that feels classical. On "Intervention" the band use strings and organ to create an orchestral tension similar to the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." The result is compelling and full of sweeping emotion.
So what is not to love about Neon Bible? By the time the breathless suite called "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" has concluded, the album's melodrama has risen to a pitch that can't be sustained through six more songs. Yet Arcade Fire march on for more episodes of aching anguish. It's a musical trail that loses its way in a deep, dark wilderness. Despite the album's brilliant moments, the gospels of Neon Bible left me craving a little light reading.