Spiritual wall of sound

<strong>Neon Bible</strong>

<em>Arcade Fire</em> Sonovox

Montreal's Arcade Fire are the band of the moment. To the critical mob and clued-up music fans, they are the fresh-faced heirs to the epic-pop throne of U2 and Radiohead, writing huge, anthemic tunes full of dense harmonies and adventurous instrumentation. To the casual listener, however, they can come across like doomy creatures from the deep, overegging their music with frequent references to death and mythology, and tempering their catchy sensibilities with avant-garde awkwardness.

As the feverishly anticipated Neon Bible opens, it is this second impression that sticks. Unsettling spine-tinglers such as "Black Mirror" and the title track sound disappointingly muddy and soupy. But as soon as a deafening pipe organ announces the fourth track, "Intervention", they hit pure gold.

Arcade Fire's Gothic panorama comes alive when they indulge their most bombastic ambitions. As well as the usual accordions and keyboards, hurdy-gurdies, a military choir and a Hungarian orchestra give the spacey art-rock of "Black Wave" and "Ocean of Noise" extra measure and weight. The musical influences that shimmered through their debut album, Funeral - the melodic pop of bands such as Talking Heads and New Order - sound broader, and a Bruce Springsteen-type swagger is evident in the out-and-out bluster of "(Antichrist Television Blues)".

The album finale, "My Body Is a Cage", is the record's highlight. A luscious gospel song in the vein of Nina Simone's "I Put a Spell On You", it builds and builds until it explodes in a riot of organ, choir and drums. The effect is like Phil Spector's wall of sound gone spiritual. As it reaches its climax, you'll feel like you're watching the sky open up and light pour down.