Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible hit stores on Tuesday. Bwog Music Critic Bryan Mochizuki looks quizzically at the hype.
NME, the UK’s equivalent to Rolling Stone, recently called Neon Bible, Arcade Fire’s new album: “A record that – as much as London Calling or What’s Going On – holds a deep, dark, truthful Black Mirror up to our turbulent times.”
Language like this is usually saved for press releases (ie: “Jet’s new album combines the best parts of Sgt. Peppers, Zeppelin IV, and Oops, I Did It Again!”). But Arcade Fire has the world’s media outlets actually talking like this.
Besides having the closest thing possible to a consensus opinion among music writers, The ‘Fire and their Bible are being compared the greatest groups/albums of all time. See, for example, our own New York Times: the review nods to Springsteen and U2, and in the Times Magazine feature, Clash comparisons run rampant. Coming on the heels of The Strokes, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and The Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire looks like the most recent resting point in search for the next Great Rock Band.
There’s no use going into the quality of the album, as hundreds already got there first. My question is this: can Arcade Fire really measure up to the hype? To liberally quote the non- neon Bible: “Eat bread, quirky Canadian band, till thou returneth unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for blog-fodder thou art, and unto blog-fodder shalt thou return.” In other words, while Arcade Fire may be a great rock band, they’ll never reach Great Rock Band status, because they rose on the shoulders of the music blog phenomenon. Their core fanbase – music bloggers, blog readers, and people who are always looking for new-new music – is inundated with dozens and dozens of new songs and bands each week.
Being one of those people myself, I know what sort of musical ADHD they’re facing. Arcade Fire isn’t my favorite band by any stretch, but maybe they would have been back in the CD days of budget restrictions on how much music one could own. But with blogs? No dice.
In grade school my friends and I played a game with a very un-PC name where the point was to tackle the dude carrying the football and then run around with it yourself until you got tackled. If only five people were playing, it was pretty much just one sixth grader stiff-arming all of us and no one ever tackled him. If thirty kids were playing, there was never a clear victor.
Thirty kids = music bloggery. Listeners are so saturated and given so many options (especially ones that fit the same niche) that it’s impossible for one to remain dominant, especially if they’re only releasing a new album once every two years. And music blogs are just a microcosm of how things work in this post-Napster, post-iTunes world. No one commits! Everyone’s swinging!
Magic Johnson once famously said, “There will never, ever be another Larry Bird.” I’m not going to go as far as to say there won’t never, ever be another Clash, but it seems foolish to jump the gun on canonizing Arcade Fire when dominance in our time is so near impossible.