"We know a place where no planes go / We know a place where no ships go / No cars go, no cars go… Us kids know / No cars go"—from "No Cars Go"

It must be hard, even futile, for any indie-rock band to try to defend its underground cred once pop stardom has blown up its cover.

Such is life for Arcade Fire.

Once darlings of audiophiles and indie snobs exclusively, the Canadian septet is now a world phenomenon, thanks in part to, among other things, opening stints for U2, a TIME cover story, a No. 2 debut in Billboard's national sales chart, gushing endorsements from Coldplay's Chris Martin ("the greatest band in the history of music," no less), and endless praise from music's elite critics.

Nearly all of the above snowballed from one album, 2004's Funeral. The disc was one of the best reviewed of the year, but not for boasting indie rock's credentials—abstraction, minimalism, ambiguity and plain weirdness, to name a few—but for being the exact opposite: direct, majestic, inspiring, populist.

Of course, these qualities were shrouded in some of the genre's sinister glow, but not enough to cast a shadow on the album's accessibility—roughly half a million people across the globe are proud owners of the disc, an unheard-of feat in indie rock. More importantly, the music didn't stand in the way of the themes of life, death and redemption that infiltrated the album; it made them even much more urgent.

Given their cool factor, Arcade Fire's second outing, Neon Bible, should've been a tough sell. If the title alone is any indication, the album is "religious"—from logistics all the way down to content. Recorded in an old church, with artwork that resembles Scriptures (chapter-and-verse and all), and chock-full ...

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