REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/23/2005
Montreal's The Arcade Fire suffered through the loss of two grandparents and an aunt while recording their debut album, Funeral. In all, the band dedicated the album to the memory of nine people. Yet with a roster of 15 and its founders a husband and wife couple (Win Butler and Regine Chassagne), The Arcade Fire are able to balance epic arrangements with lyrics that are as intimate as a family album.
Circumstances thrust The Arcade Fire onto the music scene. Critics latched onto the fact the band recorded Funeral in the midst of intense loss as well as their obscure choices of instruments (turn up those harps, violas, xylophones and recorders!). Less than two years after the band formed (and a little more than six months since Funeral was released), the band landed on the cover of Time magazine (the Canadian edition) -- an amazing feat for a debut album. But circumstances hardly explain the wallop that Funeral provides.
Even without the antiquated-looking album cover and the old-fashioned liner notes (which looks like a funeral program), Funeral sounds like an album that could have been recorded in the early '40s. The stabbing violin crashes of "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" sound like a product of World War II-era experimental jazz. Other instrumentation, such as accordions and Richard Reed Perry's work with the Rickenbacker, create a musty feel to the album, akin to sneaking into an attic that hasn't been touched for years.
Of course, there is very much about Funeral that is in the "now." "Wake Up" fully utilizes all of the band's talents, but without a hint of clutter. "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" flat-out rocks with a guitar riff that sounds like a car speeding on the interstate during a massive snowstorm. And "Rebellion (Lies)" is the one of the best "get up off your ass and take a stand for something" songs in years.
Bridging the gap between old instrumentation and new, disjointed song structures are some very personable and affecting lyrics. If you despise the emo movement or immediately write off skinny, wiry-haired guitarists as 'indie,' you will most likely put up a few walls when you're giving Funeral a spin. If you are not a fan of this type of music, you will probably not enjoy the literary imagery that floods Funeral. Digging through hills of snow to get to loved ones. Covering and burying love, secrets and suppressed feelings are spread out like ashes thrown from an urn. You're either going to succumb to this heartfelt sentiment or be a cynic and dismiss Win Butler's off-key yelps.
However, I defy anyone to get at least partially swept up in the building drama the waltzy "Crown of Love." The song builds slowly, with smooth, controlled strings circling Butler's mournful chorus of "If you still want me, please forgive me." However, the song takes a quick, stomping turn and works up a frenzy. Suddenly, the organs enter with a fever of a church pump organ and Butler's barely-contained voice unleashes the final line "You gotta be the one, you gotta be the way / your name is the only word that I can say!" -- well… you're either Butler or you're against him at that moment of emotional nakedness.
The Arcade Fire will have a difficult time following up Funeral. You certainly don't want the band to experience any more loss for Funeral II. The album constantly reveals itself upon each new listen, but any music released by them after this album runs the risk of them trying to duplicate the success of Funeral. That's the problem with creating a debut album as amazing as Funeral -- the album now casts a large shadow for the band, much what In The Aeroplane Over the Sea did for labelmates Neutral Milk Hotel. Still, most bands would kill to have that sort of challenge to overcome.