Arcade Fire - Funeral
Sam Wetherell 24/03/2005
Like regular seismic shifts deep below the Earth's mantle, general elections, or headline-making surgical modifications to Michael Jackson's body, truly great Indie bands, the stuff top ten lists are made of, emerge every five years. At end of the seventies it was Joy Division, five years after that it was the Smiths, then the dual shocks of The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine around the 80's/90's change over, then came Radiohead. It has been eight long years since OK Computer, and by God we have never been in more need of a messiah. The NME, among countless others have proclaimed an endless string of false dawns, from The Libertines, to The Others, from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to The Strokes these bands have come and gone, and like coming in from a snowy day to find only a lukewarm shower and an empty tin of hot chocolate they have failed to live up to the superlatives and the fantasy. Its 2005, and we still need saving.
But… whisper it… Funeral could be the one…
Now I am aware that is a bold statement to make. These Canadian noise merchants are at a very crucial stage in their development, and could just as likely be buried under an avalanche of apathy and armies of attention seeking rival messiahs, sheep in wolves clothing. But lets look at the signs.
Despite the fact that each day they are becoming more and more well known, there is still something intrinsically cult, in the purest possible sense of the word, about this band. Their live shows have turned into something of an underground legend, so many times I have heard people say something along the lines of “I've been going to see gigs since the invention of organised sound, but nothing has compared to The Arcade Fire at Kings College” .
Each time I listen to this album I do so with a sense of trepidation, scared that it won't live up to the picture I've built of it in mind. That the intelligence and emotional complexity of this album is fleeting, and that this time I'll listen to it and feel nothing. These fears, of course, are gone within the first couple of seconds of the first track..
We probably all know the story, but just to recap, the reason this album is called Funeral is because nine of the band's family members died during its production. Their collective grief is well concealed however, until the final track “In the backseat” where it gushes out in a cathartic explosion of pain - “my family tree” wails Régine Chassangne in a haunting Bjork-esque manor “is loosing all its leaves”. The shift from the peace of the backseat, to the responsibility of the front presumably symbolising her struggle to find a place in a world without X number of family members - its hard not to feel a lump in your throat when she professes “Alice died in the night, I've been learning to drive my whole life” (Although part of me knows how she bloody feels, I still hit the curb each time I change gear…). This song is the best evidence that, ever since Conor Oberest awoke in a pile of Jack Daniels bottles, downed a bottle of aspirin, and picked up a pen, brilliant lyrics are seeing revival in 2005.
Each of the ten songs on this masterpiece has a clearly definable pulse, which throbs powerfully from start to finish. In “Wake Up” this pulse changes towards the end and morphs into a deliciously funky riff that sounds like Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys drowning in a vat of glue.
When I hear the first track “Neighbourhood #1 (tunnels)” (there are four neighbourhoods in this album) I can physically feel the blood drain from my ears. It is physiologically impossible to listen to those four or so minutes of music without experiencing that dizzy feeling of vertigo that good music so rarely produces these days. It sounds like what I imagine listening to “Atmosphere” by Joy Division while being robbed by a gang of classical music enthusiasts would sound like. Until now violins have always sounded crap in rock music, they are wheeled in by some bespectacled front-man as a last ditch idea to stop their third of forth album from bombing out. On Funeral, though, they sound amazing, carrying the vocals, the sparse guitars, and the skin-tight percussion forward on a warm surge of passion. Lyrically they conjure images so startling they force you stop and listen, consider the opening line of the album “and if the snow, buries the neighbourhood, and my parents are crying, then I'll dig a tunnel, from my window to yours”. Or the opening line of the fourth and final Neighbourhood - “Time keeps creeping, through the neighbourhood, killing old folks, waking up babies just like we knew it would”.
All I can do is reiterate what countless other writers and pundits have been saying, and they are all right. I mean the Guardian hasn't given an album five stars since the fall of the Berlin wall for god's sake. Christ… this is the debut of the Millennium, and I cannot describe just how much you need it in your life.