#2) The Arcade Fire: Funeral, 2004
When Arcade Fire’s Funeral is mentioned, I must admit, what comes to mind first is not always the music. I think of the thin cardboard disc jacket that often becomes hidden among my other CDs, and the single sheet bulletin style liner notes which in a short band bio notes, “the irony of their first full length recording bearing a name with such closure.” Ironic indeed. For as the tracks explore mortality and loss, they never gets bogged down with grief, but push ahead full of drive and… well, life!
Leaving my iTunes minimized, I pop Funeral into the ghetto-blaster that acts primarily as an alarm clock on my bedside table as I attempt to clean up my pig sty of a room before my roommate gets home. Christmas presents must find spaces, clothes must be washed, and papers must be sorted: welcome to the new year! I’m finding myself spending a lot more time with the lyrics than with all I need to put away though.
The album begins with 4 tracks with the same name: Neighborhood #1, 2, 3, and 4, with a short intermission between #2 (Laika) and #3 (Power Out), called Une annee sans Lumiere (Sorry, but I have no clue how to add French accents in here). #1 (Tunnels) paints a childhood dream in vivid picture of a town completely snowed in (did I mention these guys are from Montreal?). The two love-struck kids dig tunnels to meet in town alone, and find themselves in their own world, forgetting what life was like before.
The neighborhood tracks beckon us into a coming-of-age story, as we discover what we are to become only in light of reflecting on all that we’ve lost. #2 subtitled Laika refers to the first dog sent into space without intention to bring him back as a metaphor for the black sheep of the family. I love the relational dimensions brought into this song though, sung from the point of view of a sibling, we picture the fights with a parent, and even the way neighbors can revel in a good story to tell, regardless of the pain it causes. It’s sung with a lot of tongue in cheek goodness.
Thus begins the year without light. Une Annee Sans Lumiere breaks from the cycle of neighborhood pictures to find a moment to grieve and reflect, but only a moment. Upon closer investigation (looking up a translation), the song is really a joining of the songs on either side of it. Une Annee combines metaphors of family struggle (the father wears blinders like a horse) with a dark world that’s lost it’s power (“hey! The streetlights all burnt out”). In preparation for Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), Une Annee speeds up with tambourine and shouts of “Hey!” that make me want to start running all the way into the next track. Power Out continues to describe the town searching for light, and extends the metaphor to a final frustrated thought and plea: “and the power’s out in the heart of man, take it from your heart put it in your hand.”
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) uses actual kettle whistles above the repeated string patterns in between verses. It drives me a little crazy, but creates a mysterious effect as Butler continues to reflect on the relationship between birth and death in lines like, “Time keeps creepin’ through the neighborhood, killing old folks, wakin’ up babies just like we knew it would,” and “they say a watched pot won’t ever boil… just like a seed down in the soil you gotta give it time.”
Crown of Love seems to be the center of this album, while all the other songs run at full pace this one is a simple apology: “if you still want me, please forgive me, the crown of love is not upon me,” showing of Butler’s ability to embody great passion. In the final minute, the track’s string driven 6/8 feel breaks into 4/4 and I break out dancing for the last minute of the song. My only disappointment on the entire album is that it fades out instead of developing the energy yet again, and expanding the song to 6 minutes.
But I forget all disappointment as soon as Wake Up strikes up and calls everyone to sing along to the syllable of “oh” like a good U2 chorus. In this song we return to the theme of growing older, and although the song begins heavily, they cleverly transition into dance beat that seems to face death without fear, affirmed by Butler shouting, “you better look out below!”
Hanging up clothes as Haiti plays, I can’t help but think the repeated counter melody sounds like a steel drum melody, though it tends to be played be flute and voices. Suspended electronic sounds remain while nothing else does, and the anticipated Rebellion (Lies) beat enters right on top with energy-contagious kick drum and bouncing double bass combo. I don’t want to close my eyes, because it’s simply not safe when you’re jumping around the room.
Finally Funeral comes to a close with female vocalist Regine Chassagne, who sings with a haunting Bjork quality. Until now she’s only headed up “oohs” or accented words or lines sung primarily by Win Butler, and I wonder if she was held back earlier in the album in order to create the surprise that In the Backseat brings. Swinging between two feels of either thin arch-shaped piano lines, and a heavy rock underscored by bowed bass, the instrumentation seems to hint at the song’s theme of moving between childhood and responsibility: “My family tree’s loosing all it’s leaves, crashing towards the driver’s seat”. At the end of Funeral, this is one of the few songs that appropriately fades into silence, and I’m left with nothing to do other than push play again.