There are only a few albums that garner high praise from all critics. There are only a few albums universally loved by just about every fan. There are only a few albums that have the ability to spark a revolution. Arcade Fire’s Funeral is one of those albums.
Funeral was released on September 14, 2004 on Merge Records. It was the band’s first full-length album and is an incredibly strong debut. It is an example of how to make baroque, art-pop music accessible to the masses. From start to finish, it is an engaging journey through heartbreak, aging, and family relationships. While there is a common thread across the album, each song is able to stand alone.
The album starts with four “Neighborhood” songs. These songs are one’s first exposure to how Arcade Fire is a band of narratives. In “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” young love is challenged. The tempo builds from a quiet, introverted hum to a manic, racing pace. Next comes “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka).” This song expresses the importance of taking hold of your life and asking for what you desire.
“Une année sans lumière” sits between “#2” and “#3.” “Neighborhood #3(Power Out)” addresses uncertainty, again, with the lyrics “I woke up with the power out/ Not really something to shout about./ Ice has covered up my parents hands/ Don’t have any dreams don’t have any plans.” When your passions and desires fade, all is lost. The foursome of songs ends with “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles),” an orchestral gem.
After the “Neighborhood” songs, the album moves along with some of the most exuberant tracks of their entire discography. In “Rebellion (Lies),” there is an element of danger. The violins play along through the choruses. Like with most Funeral songs, there is a healthy dose of “woohooos” and clapping as to inform the audience that, “we are all in this together.”
“Wake Up” ends with a simple “You better look out below.” The whole song expresses caution and adventure. It was featured in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and perfectly captures the themes of Maurice Sendak’s classic book and Jonze’s excellent film adaptation.
“Haiti” is the listener’s first introduction to the vocals of Regine Chassagne, Win Bulter wife. She is an important part of the band and plays many instruments throughout the album. The song is an ode to the homeland of her parents. Half of the song is in French. Even though few actually understand the French lyrics, it is a very charming track. In later albums, Regine takes lead on more songs. It is a welcomed development.
Having seen Arcade Fire three times, I can confidentially say that they are one of the most consistently enjoyable bands of our generation. While the “spectacle” of their music and live shows have increased over the years, the band always goes back to their Funeral-era material. Arcade Fire is always growing but the core of their music stays the same. It is ornate, art-rock, with dramatic use of violins, brass instruments, and roaring drums. Lyrically, they still express the importance of seeking out adventure and making the most of life. It all comes back to these 10 songs that started it all. It all comes back to Funeral.