Review Summary: If this is the pinnacle of music, I don't think anyone will need to do much adjusting.
Back in the day, I was under as much pressure as any fifteen-year-old could be, with extremely stressful state exams coming up that I wasn’t ready for. Instead of actually studying, I gave up and talked to my friends on Facebook the night before the exams started, trying to figure out how to calm my nerves. Someone recommended I listen to Arcade Fire’s Funeral
and I was a bit hesitant, considering I’d listened to bits of it before and hadn’t been too impressed. She insisted I give it another chance and I said to myself, ‘hey, why not? What’s the worst that can happen?’ I retrieved the CD from my older brother, who had tried pushing the album on me previously, and slotted it inside my laptop. As soon as the opening track started, I felt a rush of pleasant feelings inside my head. I instantly transferred the album to my Ipod, said my farewells to my friends, turned off my lights and ducked under the covers. I had listened to some of Funeral
before – now, I was finally hearing it.
Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
is the name of the album opener. You will remember the name once you listen to the song because with it comes an unforgettable riff played by a guitar and a piano in synchronisation. Tunnels
would be one of the more prominent tracks on the album for when it comes to displaying Arcade Fire’s unique style of lyric writing. Win Butler croons about his parents’ bedroom and not being able to remember baby names anymore and somehow, it all successfully narrates the story of a town being snowed in. A town inhabited by two lovers who want to see each other so badly that they dig a tunnel through the snow from one of their bedroom windows to the other. There’s another instalment of tales from places you can grow up in with Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)
. Laika brings us less singing and more shouting; angry guitars; electric violins and one of the most addictive drum arrangements I’ve ever heard. It details the story of a rogue older brother who’s tearing his family (and possibly his neighbourhood as well) apart with his renegade antics. You can feel the exasperation of the band as they lament the police disco lights he brings home every night with his behaviour. You, the listener, want Alexander to shape up so he won’t have to leave the neighbourhood – that’s how much conviction this song has. Neighbourhood #4 (7 Kettles)
is a lot more folk-oriented, with mostly just an acoustic guitar, some violins and Win Butler confessing his fear of time passing with each day that goes by because of all that comes with it.
Lots of the songs on Funeral
have very fast tempos; they get the crowd going. Arcade Fire can do slow songs just as well though and the first one we encounter is an interlude for the neighbourhood segment of the album, splitting the four songs in half. It’s called Une Année Sans Lumière
and yes, it contains a mix of strange English and French lyrics. What really makes the song so good though is the guitar plucking the whole way through. The second slow song is a ballad; a love song written by Win Butler for his wife and fellow band member, Régine Chassagne. It’s called Crown of Love
and with a piano line sombre enough to make your heart throb and a drum arrangement to make it that little extra dramatic, as well as classic Arcade Fire style lyrics that could allude to anything (seriously, I’ve had about ten different interpretations of what the song actually means in the last few months), Win successfully wrote a classic love song.
The only real qualm I have with Funeral
is the inclusion of the song Haiti
. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful song; Régine’s tribute to the country her parents had to flee over fifty years ago. I like the guitar on it too. The problem is that it just feels out of place on the album, as if it would have been better to replace it with another song. I personally would have preferred if Burning Bridges, Breaking Hearts
(a song the band was playing live on tour during the Funeral
era) was there instead of Haiti
. With lyrics such as, ‘Took a visit to your old house/The windows were all boarded up (...) There is no future in this town/They barricade the buildings there,’ the song is the ending to the neighbourhood saga. It also sounds more like a song on Funeral
does, with the raw emotion, nostalgia and despair at the sight of growing up. That said, Haiti
is still a damn great song – I couldn’t bring myself to fault the entire album for it being there.
As brilliant as the aforementioned songs are, every album in the world has its peak. Arcade Fire’s comes with their ability to write crowd winning anthems, such as Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
, in which Win Butler nearly destroys his vocal chords imploring the kids of today to put the power in their hands; to regain the ability to feel emotion in our contemporary institutionalised world. The best song on the album is also the most anthem-like of them all: Wake Up
has the entire band singing together as if their life depended on it, accompanied by a drum beat that wants you to wake up and a guitar strumming pattern that won’t leave your head after you listen to it. Win sings of children being unable to grow up and the heartache that comes with that atrocity. The song builds up to Win accepting he has grown up and that someday, the reaper will come and take him by the hand. Keyboards pop up in the absence of the guitar after that and Win chants that he knows where he’s going – he’s finally received the closure he’s been looking for. Funeral
was written after the deaths of several relations of the band members and thus has a lot to do with death and mortality and with Wake Up
, you conquer death by accepting it as something that will happen. I don’t know what deceit Arcade Fire are screaming about when the sing, ‘lies, lies!’ during Rebellion (Lies)
, I just know if I ever see them live, I’ll be dancing along to the simplistic beat of the song and shouting along to the protest against, well, whatever the band are fighting against.
When you have an album with as rich quality as that, you need a decent album closer to offer closure. In The Backseat
gives us the closure we seek by not offering it at all. Régine sings about someone named Alice dying, who was probably her sister or cousin and most likely ended up dead because of a car crash. That’s the point of Funeral
though: terrible things happen, you just have to appreciate the good things while they’re there as well. Régine still can’t bring herself to learn to drive after the traumatic event of watching Alice die – there is no happy ending. That’s life. And maybe, just maybe, that’s just as beautiful as any ending offering humanity redemption could be.
The problem with Funeral being my favourite album of all time was that at some point, I’d have to deal with the fact that despite being a great album, it isn’t very musically complex. I know this because I can play every song on it on guitar. This lack of advanced music isn’t an exceptional juxtaposition: plenty of great albums have been simply made up of four chord songs and catchy vocal melodies. But there comes a day when you discover the genius of Brian Wilson. It’s nearly a rites-of-passage ordeal, discovering Pet Sounds
and falling in love with it. Suddenly, I was very conscious of the fact that Funeral
lacked the complicated pieces Pet Sounds
delivered or the insane amount of musical layers you’d get with your usual Animal Collective production. Overnight, the flame Funeral
sparked within me was extinguished. I no longer had a favourite album of all time. Thankfully though, my identity crisis only lasted a few weeks. I decided to give Arcade Fire’s debut another chance and spun it for what could have been the last time.
And then it hit me.
didn’t need complex pieces or tons of musical layers to be the best there is; it has a trump card that I’ll take any day over the aforementioned qualities: emotion. Whether it be lamenting the places they grew up in, urging the children to grow up and seek power for themselves, singing for lost loved ones or just letting a girl know how much you love her, Arcade fire did it all from the heart. Every syllable they sang, screamed or shouted, they meant. Every note they hit was the band member channelling what they felt at the time. Funeral
is magic because it’s genuine. That’s its charm.
I was never one for conclusion – how can you conclude a review of an album like this? I could talk about it for days on end if I wanted to. All I know is if I ever come to terms with the fact that I’m not very musically talented and I work up the courage to serenade my girl next door, I’ll do so with a song on Funeral
. When I break up with her, repeated listening of Funeral
will help me move on. When I get the college course I’ve wanted my whole life, Wake Up
will be my victory song. Funeral
may even accompany me walking down the aisle if I ever reach that point. And most definitely, it will be played at my funeral.