Hi, all.
In the last month, the two bands responsible for the last two AView-Award-winning Best Albums, brought out their follow-ups. How do the new offerings compare to their world-beating predecessors? I decided to examine them, minute for minute.

We start with the two albums from Arcade Fire. Average track scores are given along the way...

Neighborhood *1 (Tunnels)
Nice spacious start. Never been keen on that damaged guitar track. It makes me think my headphones are on the blink.
00 Black Mirror
Craven-esque opening gives way to a familiar start. Chords sound suitably backwards, but reverse play sounds no different.
It plays well. It has a good feel. It makes me turn it up. It is a good track. 01 Development a bit poor, but slight build in right speaker makes up for it. All a bit repetetive.
Even this bit, straight from a musical, is not unpleasant. And good Canadian sentiments in the lyrics. 02 That reverse effect gets a bit tiresome. But some French lyrics now. English lyrics are a bit dull.
All that said, this isn't grabbing me with the vigour it perhaps should. Maybe it's the '80s retro effect. 03 Falling bombs... how Canadian. Going nowhere, this track. It's a bit of a White Elephant.
No. That's good, though... Those Ottowan backing vocals coming over through the haze.
04 Keep the Car Running
Chirpy intro... all a bit too Bruce Springstein. And the lyrics don't help that any.
Neighborhood *2 (Laïka)
Abrasive drums and french accordian. Shouty vocals. Where will it go? It will go here. For a moment.
05 Hint of the end of Une Année there...
The warping strings make this track, and maybe also those twangy stabs. And mostly her screeching. 06 This is too clappy and Brucie for my like. Though better produced.
And now the good bit, with its Eurovison decending bassline. But then it sorts of falls away into mush.
07 I'm being harsh, really.
Une année sans lumiere
Starts like something off This Is Hardcore. But with added French vocals. The French here is a bit superflous.
08 Neon Bible
This is a bit retro too, but not nearly so AOR. Though maybe Sting could've done it...
When their songs need French they don't bother and when they don't they do. Or summat. 09 That was short.
Bit boring this one so far. Fat instrumental.  10 Intervention
Psalm 666 organ, and then chords reminiscent of that What If God Was One of Us business.
Ee. U2. This is one of the bits that worries me. It's not unpleasant but it screams Joshua Tree.
11 Another slightly Brucie moment there. Worrying, that. Very Springstein chords. And that bang into the second verse. Worrying.
Neighborhood *3 (Power Out)
Bang. Nice start. It's a lot like that track near the end of The Wall. But less annoying.
12 But the production gives it an edge, just as with the U2 moments on the last album. Still... it's only going so far. It's a bit straight.
Nice, moody bass growl. Nice break out. But a bit Radiohead. 13 A choir might save the day. Or maybe not. This song should be in French, clearly. Why is it not?
Twangy guitar riff. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I've still not decided. I like the 'musical' middle 8 though. 14 Black Wakve / Bad Vibrations
Ah... Woman Fire, now. Good, good. Ooh. Very 1982. I like. And she sings in French.
And that builds pleasantly. Getting petulent. Do that middle 8 again. There we go.  15 But once that 1982 novelty wears off, it's less good.
Should just be this all the way through. No maybe that'd not work. The riff makes more sense here too. 
16 Now Man Fire is back. And he's lowering the tone.
Neighborhood *4 (7 Kettles)
Onomatopaea. And U2. Brr.
17 It's nicely moody but that's all. It might as well be Black Mirror again. Save some nice background noises.
Can't shake off I Still Haven't Found... If it weren't for this, maybe the track would be ok. I can even handle the kettle whistle. But not Bono. 18 Ocean of Noise
Industrial noise seque gives way to farty mid-80s noodling.
Ooh. That's something from the EP playing on the strings there. That lifts things a bit. Makes a big difference. Cos now I don't have U2 in my head. 19 If you squint you can hear Mick Hucknall. No. I'm being harsh again. But seriously.
But now the kettle's starting to irritate me. And he's getting a bit AOR.  20 Maybe this will turn out to be the Haiti of the album. Or is it just an album of Haitis?
Now some random Ah...ing. 
21 I am being over-harsh, but it's not being good enough. Ok, so that flourish is pleasingly nostalgic. It screams 1986.
Crown of Love
Jump straight in. Nice. Good little waltz. Better dig my lighter out. I want him to sing in German now. 
22 Nice bit of cheesy brass. But he's starting to sing like Dexy's Midnight Runners or something. Music goes Tindersticks at the end. Which is a relief.
This was better when I thought the lyrics were something else, but it's still ok. Good melody. Nice wailing. Building nicely. 23 The Well and the Lighthouse
Lighthouse. Hm. But, this is more like it. It's back to EP form at least. If not Funeral. It has, at very least, a good beat.
Are you waving yet? I like the ends of the verses. Very nice. Whee. He needs to growl more there. But nonetheless... Good stuff. 24 I mean this is the measure of AF, these two repeating chords. But so what. This is developing nicely. Woman Fire quotey vocals done without going too Beautiful South.
It's still building. It's going well. Is it a bit straight? Maybe. But it's nice. And we seem to be docking. Ooh. Change-lyrics. And now it's turned into Mark of the Devil by Pulp. Heh. 25 Flourishing and filling out. Then it goes silly. Could the Decemberists sue? 
La la la la indeed. Should do more with that. It could've been a big score. In the end not quite enough umph. But good.
26 It's quite nice, but again he should be singing in French here. This is the best track so far and it is not Crown of Love. 
Wake Up
It's the music from 101 TV trailers and montages. It is a good opening. I am taken back to Tonight Tonight...
27 (Antichrist Television Blues)
ELO: Hold On Tight. No. Worse. Bruce Springstein. Squared. Nasty. Bring back U2. Please.
Decending bass-lines. It's really hard to go wrong with them.  28 What's happened? This is not good. It's like that Genesis doing Jesus He Knows Me. Or was that better? No, surely not. What am I on about?
Very slow, innit. Plodding. Raise the melody second time round: an old trick but it still works.  29 Stop that clapping. It's embarrassing. Hint of Pulp there, but not in a good way. Too much Springstein for that.
Middle-8. Quite A-Ha. Could be in a Bond film maybe. And then it collapses into village hall disco.  30 Again, I'm probably being too harsh. Ooh. I like these backing vocals. They're a significant improvement. 
Clap your hands. Hands up, baby hands up. Pleasingly daft. Again they could've made more of it. But this'll do. And then it turns  into Lust for Life, which is a shame.
31 Is this one still going? Can it not do, please?
I sniff the faintest aroma of Mike & the Mechanics, though heavily masked by coconut.
32 Windowsill
Long pause there. Ooh, what's that sound like? Is it Roger Waters? Yeah. It's The Wall.
This is very nearly horrible. It dallies dangerously near the edge. 33 More of the same.
Stick in a flary guitar line like The Edge and hope no-one notices that we're floundering.  34 Tedious, no? Rule 27: No songs about MTV.
This is making me nauseous. It's like being trapped in the wrong side of 1983. And now we're banging on the wall like a cheap mime. But nobody hears us and we drown in calypso.
35 Ah, production; come save us. That's better. Driving beat and some strings. Much better.
Rebellion (Lies)
A segue. Which is unfortunate because it makes the last track a necessary rite of passage. 
36 No Cars Go
I like the new start. And there's a bit more umph to the guitarwork. 
This is more like it. Though those are U2 chords again. The wheezing strings make it alright.  37 The Heys were always a bit of a risk, but they don't do bad. The doubling seems a bit professional.
And now we've hit something. It sounds a bit weaker than it should. And the chords here are even more U2, but they're keeping it together. 38 The EP version seemed to have more to it in verse two. This less so. Not sure of the farty brass FX there.
The lyrics run perilously close to shit, but somehow the production holds stuff together. She helps. 39 The problem with fattening the sound is that it can sound a bit like a rough 80s synth. Witness this solo. Ah... quiet bit. Nice. This is the best track so far, and presumably the oldest.
And though these chords are U2's, they are U2's better chords. The ones they wear for nights out. And that fiddle makes a pleasing and strangely familiar tune. 40 The synth plinks are not as nice here as on the EP. And I'm straining for the women and children. But that's not really a problem. Choir. Nice.
Very '80s by the end. Which is ok.
41 It's not just that it's familiar. It's that it's a better song. And they've beefed up the end very nicely, while preserving the twinkly ending.
In the backseat
She does her best Björk. It's quite good.
42 My Body Is a Cage
Now this sounds like Phil Collins. I don't want it to. I want it to sound brilliant. But all I can here is Collins.
The chorus is very nice. Made the better by the guitar noise. And then a nice string arrangement takes us back to the beginning.  43 Get over the Collins problem and, with some nice organ and vocals, things start to seem a bit better.
This is a great encore. Thwang! Good stuff. And that cello or whatever is good solid stuff. Girl Fire should sing more, in my view. 44 But there's this unshakable sense of bollocks hanging over it. Even when everything kicks in I can't help but worry. Because suddenly I'm getting Meatloaf.
The strings have some fun now. And everyone smiles their farewells. 45 See. That's Meatloaf, innit. It's good Meatloaf, but it's not good Arcade Fire. Pity them. They had a great debut album. But, yes... this is bothersome.
This could go on for much longer than it does. It breaks down nicely.  46 And now it's got here it's not going to do anything. That's it. That's the end of the album. Pah.
Now reduced to pizzicato and scratchy noises. We disappear into the darkness. Lovely.
Total Score = 123 (Very Good)
Total Score = 104 (Quite Good)

And here's a graph of the performances over time:

Funeral v Neon Bible

What do we learn from this? We learn that, compared to Funeral, Neon Bible is a bit of a disappointment. However, at their worst, both are as bad as each other; and at its best, Neon Bible manages to trump Funeral (...might've been a touch generous in my marking there). The final album scores show a chasmic difference: Funeral works out a whole couple of classes better than its successor (Quite Good - Good - Very Good).

Next up, it's Deerhoof:

Chatter Boxes
Flarty noises. They flip a bit Beatles. But don't touch my naughty bit.
01 The Perfect Me
Nice start. NIce crunchy riff. Nice dizzy chorus. It's not one for singing along to though. 
Contiune the Beatly sensation. A cymbal. Breakdown to whispy temple flonk. 02 Development time. Rather rocky. Drum solo. Another change.
Not the strongest opener ever.
03 Initial euphoria wears off as it should.
Twin Killers
Ah. Nice twangs. And a beat arrives. I like beats. Beats are good. Amusing beat-band descent twiddle, well executed with kitchen-knife guitar.
04 +81
Fun start. As might be expected. And a nice jolly chorus. Hard to get too depressed about this. A bit too flittery.
05 A bit of a non-sequittir here. We seem to be descending into gentle chaos. But then we pull back up at the last moment.
Running Thoughts
Funky trouble like a submarine. And then a beautiful chorus emerges. 
06 And back to the fun stuff. With a hint of '80s, as is requisite these days.
Harpsicute. The verse does the job. Then this descent adds a new foundation to the back stairs. 07 Believe E.S.P.
The riff sounds like the music to Rory Bremner: Who Else. Which can only be a good thing. This is probably the best track on the album. It has a darkness to it.
This makes me smile. Going slightly Gong here.  08 It's good this. Got a riff, some nice background percussion, some fun vocals, and some haunting backing. 
Nice synths in the back of a space-freak. 
09 Breakdown followed by a return to the moody bit.  And finish.
Vivid Cheek Love Song
This one's a bit nebulous. Aliens recreate Deerhoof. 
10 The Galaxist
A gentler number now. Enter daemons stage right, trudging in wellies. This is a nice one too, isn't it.
Heh. Yummy.
11 That's quite a pleasing guitar. But this whole section is a bit more normal than I like my Deerhoof. She's almost singing coherently there.
O'Malley, Former Underdog
Whee. It's a kids TV show from the '70s. Not one in particular. One you never saw. Milk Man perhaps. 
12 Choco Fight
This one has a groove. 
Heh. This is great. Heh. Now it's gone scary.
13 But it's not a very good one in the grand scheme. In fact it might be a bit annoying.
Boy Deerhoof comes out of his box with something lightly wet and throngy.
14 Yeah. It's like Mu left out of the fridge. It's gone all white.
It's not Eating Salt is Easy (GZM) but it's that sort of thing... moody drum-less strum chill.  15 Ok, but not very good really.
I think it could've done better by ending there. But we shall see. 
16 Whither the Invisible Birds?
Deerhoof's school musical, this one. Quite nice in a funny kind of way.
Wrong Time Capsule
Aw. We've all done it, of course. 
17 Taken as a comedy track it's impressive. As a serious effort, file with Clannad? 
We drop out and build up from a new direction. 18 Cast Off Crown
Another one with spikes to claw the flesh of my ear. But it's broken down into a bit of a mess. And now here's Boy Deerhoof being all silky and groovy.
Japanese solo. And now a more conventional instrumental. Good.
19 There's something quite pleasant here. But a bit too jazzy for my like. That is to say there is the slightest sniff of something slightly jazzish.
Spirit Ditties of No Tone
Heh. Deerhooftastic.
20 Kidz Are So Small
They're a competent bunch are Deerhoof. Remember Mansun? They weren't so competent. Here the 'hoof do Shrigley.
How'm I meant to describe this? Railway rhythm, bleeping bass, flitty guitar, mad high Japanese vocals. Naturally. 21 Mu-like noises again, which is fine. This is a fun little number, though it lacks a little form.
Whee. And then it all comes together. 22 Matchbook Seeks Maniac
Deerhoof do Girl-Group. 
Sustained tone. And then, like some secret track, strummery and random percussion enter from the abyss.
23 Again, it's a fun concept but the delivery doesn't quite live up to the concept. And the chorus doesn't really hit my juicy spots.
Scream Team
Another '60s beat thrash. Both singers.
24 Goes a bit He-Man here. Slightly. And this title lyric seems far too polished for its own good, really.
Residentish now. And back to the cavern club.  25 But now something's revved up a bit. And just as it does we fade out. Rather premature that.
26 Look Away
Twiddly noises and a steady steady build up for what will be a long track.
You Can See
Boyhoof again. With a pleasant slice of dreamy floss.
27 Just as I am about to type "nothing happening", something happens. But ultimately not something very interesting.
Developing into Westcoast surf-balladry. A narrow vein of Fountains of Wayne perhaps. 28 I am now beginning to get bored.
I feel like I should be high.
29 She's here, and just in time to save the day. Or not as it seems to be transpiring.
Midnight Bicycle Mystery
A cluttery mess summounts a bass-riff.
30 I'm gripped, really I am. No. I'm not. I'm lying. I'm yawning too. Oh. Electric cows. That's more like it.
Then a strong guitar riff emerges from the melee. And Girlhoof rides atop it.
31 I like the electric cows. Not sure about the twiddling over the top. We're half way through.
After Me The Deluge
Pretty wheezing accorianation and both singers above. Plus more of that relaxing pluckery.
32 Silence in the studio. I do hope the electric cow makes an Atom Hearted break for freedom. But I rather suspect it won't. 
And now we strum into something strident. And now something Syd. And then we wheeze out again. 33 "Me me me me me me me me me me..." And now it's back to Echoes territory.
I keep worring that we'll find Roger Waters in all this though. 34 Are we nearly there yet? 
Syd again. Beatles again. Pleasant but a bit floaty. 
35 Nice that they put this at the end, anyway. Our of harm's way.
Lazy strolling twangs.
36 Zzz. Oh. She's back. 
Grungy circles. With a warbling woman on about Deergods.  37 And that's that. Look Away indeed. Oh well.
Not so good, this one, I think. Though now it's gone all floatylike... 38
Guitar fanfare bursts over the night sky, keeping me interested. 39
That's enough of that, I think.
Lemon and Little Lemon
Slightly formless hoof-flutter. Now with a beat.
Starting to draw me in slightly but not much. 
Lightning Rod, Run
Better again. Usual sort of spiky Deerhoof riff. Usual sort of vocals over the top. Another Deerhoof by numbers entry.
Some snappy chord-shifts wake me up a bit. Then it's back to the lightly funky riffery. But this is on here to make the time up.
A boyhoof to the microphone again. With a Gorky-style dirge. Rather nice.
Blood Chant meets Eating Salt. But not really as good as either. 
News From a Bird
The gentlest of freak-outs. Lounge jazz freaking.
Floydish guitar nips. Not my bag.
Spy on You
Something to take the taste of rancid coffee away. This will do. Chirpy midnight radio.
Not their best number ever, but ok.
You're Our Two
This is more like it. I feel like we're getting somewhere again after all that. Springy guitar sonar forms the base for some close-harmony nibbling.
Clanging chords. Building up into a quiet valley again. 
A very Gongy bass-riff with appropriate drums. A more Hoofy spiky guitar riff comes over.
And here she is, dressed like Sian Lloyd and ready to amuse us all. 54
Breakdown into farting electronics. Crackle. And then building back into our space-riff.  55
Change of direction for a moment. And now with added noise. Scream if you want to go faster.
Total Score = 107 (Good)
Total Score = 105 (Good)

The Runners Four v Friend Opportunity

Those scores are quite close, though the graph reveals the difference in length. Again, favourable scoring sees the new album out-peak the predecessor. I should explain that I reviewed the new ones first, to take advantage of my enthusiasm. Runners Four, being the last album I plugged my ears into, may have suffered from the inevitable drag, not least with its ownv incumbent length. Sometimes, especially with brief albums, the statistics can play foul games, but the graphs give a better reading of events. Friend Opportunity, save a couple of tracks, is a bit rubbish, especially the end, while Runners Four holds interest and a degree of quality for the most part. My marking may have only allowed it "Good", but it seems to me to be worth a bit more than that.

So Friend Opportunity and Neon Bible are a point apart, and that point is the crucial boundary between a Quite Good and a Good album. I'd go so far as to say that that boundary is in the right place judging by the sounds these records make. Because Friend Op is certainly better than Neon Bible, and might even, just about, be good. But neither of these recent releases is as good as its predecessor. In the case of Neon Bible, it falls well short.

Arcade Fire are straying far too close to comfortable AOR territory, especially for a second album, which by rights should be a bit fiddly. They need to be far more gloomy and dusty. They always showed worrying signs, but these signs are now fully fledged life-threatening symptoms.

With Runners Four, Deerhoof put out an album of a decent length for the first time in their life. And they didn't just fill it with any old rubbish either. Maybe the effort of that tired them out, becuase they're back to below 40', and it's a patchy <40' at that. But they're so cute that you find yourself forgiving them, patting them on the head and telling them to go and play nicely. Arcade Fire, on the otherhand, are the problematic moody teenager who is flirting with Young Conservatism. What do you do with that?

Ta ta,
March '07.