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Arcade Fire

Neon Bible (Merge)

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Aside from A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole's only other book is Neon Bible, written in 1953 at the age of 16. It didn't compare to the Pulitzer-winning Confederacy, but his observations about cultural intolerance in the South were remarkable -- if predictably overwrought, given that he was a teenager.

Neon Bible is an apt -- albeit allegedly coincidental -- title for the Arcade Fire's ambitious second record, which is concerned only with big ideas like apathy and apocalypse, death and long drives. During the petulant drudge of "Windowsill," Win Butler offers an empty protest to "world war three" and asks MTV to "set him free." Over the brooding pipe organ of "Intervention," he decries an equally featureless "church," which -- wouldn't you guess? -- is killing his family. Last season's blog kings sounded a whole lot more natural on their debut, Funeral -- but that was before their ambitions swelled to match the hipster consensus that they were indie rock's saviors.

When the Canadian quintet does recapture the lofty melodies of Funeral (as on "Haiti" and "No Cars Go," which are both recycled from an early self-titled EP), they're quickly ushered away by more angst-ridden couplets about going to sleep, rivers so deep. Unable to blossom beyond adolescent profundities, the cheapie object of its title is all too appropriate.

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