Francophone rockstars The Arcade Fire have somehow allowed their sophomore effort to escape into the wild from the fortress of obtuse marketing. Even though Neon Bible isn't supposed to hit the streets until March 6, I got the goods (with mp3 metadata in shambles, natch) from here.
Is it a letdown? Of course it is. Neon Bible has to stand next the Arcade Fire's previous work. Their first LP, Funeral, is one of those all-time-great records that I will continue to listen to until I'm grizzled and incontinent. And their earlier EP, Arcade Fire, is so full of the promise and audacity that later bloomed in Funeral.
A full review of Neon Bible is for another day (NB -- I like it). Today, I'm laser focusing on two versions of one song.
"No Cars Go" first appears as a raucous, horn-filled anthem/lullaby on the Arcade Fire EP. It's the barn-burner on a little disc full of barn-burning tracks any other band would be happy to have as their signature rocker. It's got features up the wazoo: the lyrics are a little opaque, there's a dude shouting like he's shepherding folks off the Titanic, nearly every line is punctuated with the whole band yelling "Hey!" and the snare line is unstoppable. Yet, it's a very relaxing song to listen to -- Win and Regine's voice are strangely soothing. They gently lead you off to sleep into a mechanical dreamland. It's a great song, unlike any other.
It now reappears in 2007, with rounded edges and clearer vocals on Neon Bible. To my untrained ears, it sounds like the horns have been mixed down and new string orchestrations added. And my white boy sense of rhythm detects that it's faster -- but I can't really tell. Win and Regine have certainly become even more confident vocalists and belt it out. The whole thing is smooth. Smooth. The voices and instruments in the climatic end are harmonized perfectly to one note. And it works -- it's a thrilling track to listen to.
But I can no longer call it a mod-rock lullabye, which was what I loved about NCG '03. It's become a little too bombastic for that moniker. The simple sweetness is gone. The '07 version brings the rock and I'm missing the roll.
That being said, NGC '07 sounds like the rest of the album. "No Cars Go" Classic wouldn't be a good fit for Neon Bible. And maybe NCG '07 is the level of production Arcade Fire always wanted for the song, but couldn't afford when they were bumming around Montreal watching their families die.
I've been playing both versions back to back while writing this, and I have to say, I'm glad there's both in this world. They each have their unique charms. There ought to be a "No Cars Go" for all occasions.
No Cars Go (live) - YouTube