Celebratory, blissful, euphoric; these are not the words usually used to describe the funeral of a loved one. Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire combined all of these emotions into one inspiring 48-minute album about life, death and existence–all under the premise of kids living in a not-so-average neighborhood–in their 2004 debut album, “Funeral.”
The album kicks off with the somber, but upbeat, song “Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels)”, the first in a series of four songs that may or may not be connected to one another. Starting off with a harp, smooth electric guitar, and lead singer’s Winn Butler’s slick vocals, it chronicles the tales of a man who wants to dig a tunnel out of his snow-covered neighborhood.
The next track, “Neighborhoods #2 (Laika)”, follows a more methodical structure, using a repetitive chorus to illustrate the story of a lost brother. The song is an allusion to the dog, Laika, the first test subject from the Soviet Union to be sent into space. The dog died so that scientists could learn how to send humans in safely, which many felt was a senseless sacrifice.
The third song, “Une Année Sans Lumière” slows the pace a bit to break up the Neighborhood tracks with French vocals.
“Neighborhoods #3 (Power Out)” offers a bombastic guitar again, fused with the harp, to create a sense of urgency to restore power to the neighborhood. “Neighborhoods 4 (7 Kettles)” ends the series of songs and begins the second, more somber half of the album.
With a powerful piano and accordion, “Crown of Love” exemplifies that Arcade Fire can play solemn love songs just as well as they can rock.
“Wake Up” almost feels like a return to form after the more solemn songs, opening with a raw guitar and a choir singing in the background. This part of the song was used for the trailer of the movie adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are.” The song is undoubtedly one of the best songs on the album, with Butler digging deep emotionally to deliver what could be called his siren song. He warns at the end of the song in an almost carefree voice: “You better look out for love!”
“Haiti”, the next song, not only changes the formula by switching from electric to acoustic guitar, but uses the voice of Butler’s wife, Régine Chassagne, to drive an almost folksy island tune.
“Rebellion (Lies)” moves back to Butler’s vocals with a more pop sound and a repetitive chorus to make you move.
“In The Back Seat” ends the album in a soft tone with Chassagne back on the microphone. The soft, slow tune, with her high voice, oddly contrasts the rest of the album—with her wails of “I like the peace, in the back seat” seeming off from the rest of the album’s rebellious nature. On repeated listens, though, it sharply shows just how well Arcade Fire knows their topic: the perspective of someone who isn’t involved in the fighting, is almost alienated by it, and just wants everyone to get along.
“Funeral” was the big break for Arcade Fire, and although their next two albums–“Neon Bible” and “The Suburbs”–are critically regarded as well, “Funeral” is one of those rare albums that not only breaks the mold, but sets the pace for everyone else in the genre to follow. The band has announced that they plan to release a new album sometime in 2013, as well. Butler’s tale of love, life, death, rebellion, and the great beyond is a treat to listen to, every step of the way.
*Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
*Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
*Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
(Photo by Anton Corbijn)