Friday, December 28, 2007

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2007: Number 3

Three of them, in fact

The Lord Mayor's parade went that way. No, Neon Bible is no Funeral, but then few things are or are ever likely to be, because you can only redefine the whole direction of American alternative a finite number of times. Then there were all the sidebar issues - the first, and perhaps still only, band to become globally huge having started as genuine mp3 blog hypes, the web of mystique spun around them, the landmark London gigs at the start of the year with additional playing in the crowd and the Porchester Hall atrium, the sheer overwhelmingness - that serve to pump up the image of a band to believe in, that this is no Red Hot Chili Peppers. They're also so completely a band to lose yourself in that it was no wonder Neon Bible was universally adored on release - going back to it ten months later, trying to put their new arena status out of mind, barely dims initial impressions that Win, Regine and co still feel they have plenty to mine and plenty of ground to make up. Neon Bible, essentially, is Funeral given a big budget, less personally specific makeover, albeit one more concerned with the end of days rather than just sounding like it, the power restored and snow melted to find the world in an uncertain place, and it's something they relish.

The trick is, while the sound becomes more arena-friendly its component parts are becoming more ominous and ostentatious. Out of the blocks Black Mirror comes on like its own tsunami, eddying strings and forceful guitars framing Win Butler's urgent tale of how the titular reflector "cares not about your dreams, cares not for your pyramid schemes". Keep The Car Running runs on the confidence inherent in building massive arenascopes on a mandolin, an upbeat tune that's downbeat about "a weight that's pressing down" on the world, a nameless, possibly religiously based, fear that stays afloat on the old trick of everyone in the band just trying, all on frontal assault mode. The title track lets up a bit, sounding like an intimate My Morning Jacket with strings (again arranged throughout by Owen 'Final Fantasy' Pallett) before the even more conspicuous Intervention, wherein an actual church organ looms over the realisation of doom, "working for the church while my family dies" as it sounds like the very weight of the words has started holding the song down. Black Wave/Bad Vibrations sounds at first drafted in from an entirely other album, Regine dreaming of escape, possibly in succession to Funeral's Haiti, over something that sounds not unlike Power, Corruption & Lies-era New Order before turning abruptly into a Valhalla stomp with music referencing said black waves, here used as metaphor for how both singers are escaping, with judicious sound effects turning into Ocean Of Noise, which comes within touching distance of Pixies' Ana, a Carribbean blues song about falling out with someone or something until Win reassures "it's time to work it out" upon the entrance of New Orleans/surf horns. And if The Well And The Lighthouse is the closest Neon Bible gets to Funeral's overhanging Talking Heads influence, with more than a touch of that New Order sound again, (Antichrist Television Blues) is the closest to more recent influence Bruce Springsteen, a forceful road movie of blue collar poetry in which a God-fearing man, seeing a world in which "the planes keep crashing always two by two", dreams of his daughter getting out of the dangerous real world and making it on the stage and being willing to do whatever He wants him to do to facilitate his dreams for her, nearly destroying himself in the process (an alternate title was 'Joe Simpson', after the ex-preacher father of Jessica and Ashlee). The closest to a Wake Up-style people's fist-aloft anthem? That'll be No Cars Go, dragged out from their 2003 debut EP and given a MGM makeover of semi-colossality, all in the bassoon and the "women and children, let's go!". How to close such end-of-days sermonising? My Body Is A Cage, on which the pipe organ reappears for something that leans towards The Bends territory, full of bombastic melodrama, especially the cathartic "set my spirit free" coda, a spiritual from the end of the world. It may be pitched into the existential darkness, but from such fear the world's most elliptical, spectacular band have conjured a real death disco.

WATCH ON: (Antichrist Television Blues) (live)

My favourite album of 2007 is...

Frank Turner: Jamie T - Panic Prevention

Simon Aurell, Fanfarlo: Grinderman - Grinderman

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