We Control the Horizontal, Vertical
The weird and the pretentious, Springsteen teat-suckling and groovy metal
Not surprisingly, the album is masterminded by Arizonian Jon Rauhouse, the steel guitar wizard of Neko Case's backing band. Case's haunting vocals make a cameo on Steel Guitar , as do the talents of John Convertino, Joey Burns and Jacob Valenzuela, with whom Rauhouse has collaborated in Calexico. Their instruments, ranging from mandolins to a Hammond organ, play wingman to Rauhouse's pedal steel, contributing additional color to the already vibrant folk-art arrangements. And each song brings something different to the table, beginning with the distinctively southwestern first track, "Idaho," to the last, "The Fishin' Hole," better known as The Andy Griffith Show theme.
But in spite of the album's stylistic tangents, a unified sense of place seems to be woven throughout--a desert oasis, mid-afternoon, the 1960s. A kind of déjà vu.
But the name Pablo, even if it first seems misleading, can serve as a metaphor for what the band is. At its worst, Pablo is pretentious hipster music. There's artfully mixed indie noise, with enough background piano music to fill a hotel bar, and wailing vocals lamenting the loss of great loves and employment on Wall Street. Half the time, it is everything you expect.
At its best, Pablo could be one man, one ridiculously talented man with maybe eight hands, because the five sometimes concoct a seamless combination of all instruments to form one musical body that moves smoothly through a track with all the expertise of an older, wiser band. During tracks like "Half the Time" or "Get Around," one forgets the blurry album cover, which is a picture of a man gazing up at the sky, smoking a cigarette, the ultimate portrait of the pseudo-intellectual. One forgets all the trite crap and becomes lost in the music.
The Arcade Fire
Having established itself with a critically worshipped 2004 album called Funeral , it only makes sense that the Arcade Fire would go in a biblical direction to ensure their metaphorical rebirth. Whereas Funeral blended the archetypal coolness of the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads and Joy Division, Neon Bible relocates its source material from CBGB to Giants Stadium, with an irony-lacking onslaught of cinematic, Springsteenian anthems about faith, rebellion and war. Stranger still, it doesn't suck in the slightest.
From the spirited "Keep the Car Running" to the roaring piano ballad "Ocean of Noise," frontman Win Butler borrows his inflections from the book of Bruce--but with just the appropriate dash of Robert Smith to keep him in balance with the overriding melancholia of the mini-orchestra behind him. "Intervention," the bombastic but brilliant single, features a string section and a big honkin' pipe organ--resulting in something of a gothic "Thunder Road."
I can taste the fear , Butler yelps. Lift me up and take me out of here! Apparently, you don't need a headband to be melodramatic--and you don't need to hold back to hold court. Très bien.
Take "Alcohaulin' Ass" as an example. It begins in slow-motion, just a little countrified, but it builds into a Zeusian percussion nightmare. Still slowly syncopated, yet deceptively fierce. It's hard not to focus on the drums; it's Vinnie Paul Abbott, blasting beats for the first time since his brother was murdered onstage in 2004. 'Nuff said.
You can hear his precision and guidance throughout the album, especially on "Star," which features a groove-heavy beat that feels like the best of Pantera. But Vinnie Paul still brings the pain, when appropriate, crashing, machine-gun turmoil, all of it courtesy of a true dual-pedal virtuoso. Hell, if nothing else, this album rules simply because Vinnie is still out there, once again tearing things apart.