Before they got the nod of approval from the late King of, well, music David Bowie. Before they experimented with Haiti inspired music, drawing from Regine Chassagne’s origins, which shaped their latest album Reflektor. Before they managed to beat Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry to win the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year. Before all of this, Arcade Fire were just a group of friends, the main songwriters Win Butler and Chassagne being husband and wife, who loved to make music.
Made for $10,000 yet, at the time of writing, selling over 700,000 copies, Arcade Fire managed to strike gold on their first attempt with debut record Funeral in 2004 which has left a mark on the indie rock scene that, since then, has yet to be matched. So just how did the band manage to make such a remarkable album and why is it so lauded by not only critics but by fans all over the world?
Just like other quintessential albums like Radiohead’s OK Computer, Funeral is very much a product of its time. In a post 9/11 world that was full of paranoia, fear and tragedy, there was a definite feeling of unrest that many found hard to shake off. Though many find the label “emo” revolting due to the colourfully dyed hairstyles and monster energy drink cans that will come to mind, Arcade Fire manage to show that emo stood for something which, unsurprisingly, is emotion. From the get go, the pain, the positivity, the lows and the highs are all documented in such a way that when you remember Butler describing the development of each new record as if they were making a film, you can’t help but nod in agreement.
Let’s take opening track Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) for example, a thematic opener that sets the scene for what’s to come. A model coming of age song, instrumentally it’s grand which is in no small part due to the seven members of the band: Butler, his younger brother Will, Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara and former member Howard Bilerman. Every individual plays a key part in making the sound on Funeral feel as grand and open ended as the snow drenched streets and lands that Butler sings about so whimsically.
It would be a cardinal sin not to mention the lyrics on this LP and boy, do they pack a punch. The tragedy encrusted lines on the aforementioned Neighbourhood #1, which has juxtaposing imagery of love with the protagonist’s parents and his own romance with his partner who he decides to run away with, stand out as some of the band’s best so far. This, accompanied by the catchy yet simple piano, the humming organ and the seductive strings, gives an almost Wes Anderson type of vibe, more specifically his project Moonrise Kingdom which touched upon some of these issues. In addition to all this, the lyrics aren’t all drenched in sadness as certains tracks have the anthemic chorus that helps to keep the album fresh and alive. Rallying cries are Arcade Fire’s forte and the “WHOA-OH”s that are scattered along Wake Up will be etched into your mind immediately.
This emotion from one track alone is overwhelming and it continues throughout the entire LP, whether it be on the following Neighbourhood tracks #2 and #4 which discuss alienation and the banality of modern life respectively or the standout track Rebellion (Lies) which is essentially the tale of being an optimist in a pessimistic world. As mentioned before, Arcade Fire made emo stand for what it was and in addition to that, they transformed the landscape of indie rock for the time being.
It’s no doubt down to the authenticity that makes Funeral feel like something much more than just an album. Family members were dying all around and, much like all great art, this tragedy and dire events fueled the band to make something special. The pain and frustration can be felt in every line and chord and what it evokes from the listener is something that even I, someone whose job it is to put things into words, finds hard to do so.
Michael Barclay, writer for Exclaim Music, wrote “Despite the title, Funeral is more like a baptism: an arrival, an affirmation of faith, a statement of purpose”, a statement that rings all too true in a post-funeral world where each and every one of Arcade Fire’s albums feels like it’s own entity. Funeral is an album that artists aspire to make, their very own magnum opus, that some never manage to create. Much like the sidewalk near the old apartment the band used to perform in, Arcade Fire have engraved themselves into the music history books: and they did it all on their first try.
-Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)