In 2005 Arcade Fire landed the dream gig for any new band: a few nights opening for U2. By appearances, it was an odd fit. Arcade Fire's seven members took the stage looking as if they just had just ridden out a hurricane in a trailer park. Instruments, hair and clothing were strewn everywhere. The set list, culled from their debut, Funeral, was full of songs about death played on accordion and mandolin. Later U2's the Edge would create endless spaces between guitar chords, while Bono drove metaphorical trucks through them, but somehow Arcade Fire's patchwork symphonies roared almost as loudly. To hear the bands together was an education in the various ways rock music can be huge.
Arcade Fire's new album, Neon Bible, has but one disappointment; the band is still a half step away from being as huge as its promise. It takes some doing to make an album darker than Funeral, but Win Butler, the band's leader--he's the singer too, but all members of Arcade Fire sing or scream whenever they want to--spends a lot of time cataloging his gloom. "Every spark of friendship and love/ Will die without a home," he yelps on Intervention, one of the happier tunes. Plenty of candidates for rock's next big voice mistook darkness for depth early on (listened to any '70s Springsteen lately?), and you get the sense Butler will outgrow it, since the band's melodies already have. Black Mirror and Keep the Car Running take flight on guitar, harp, hurdy-gurdy and a chorus of voices that soar past the words, creating a feeling of optimism in songs about pessimism. It's a neat trick, and it leaves you certain that it won't be long before lots of people are singing along.