Arcade Fire - Funeral

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Do Arcade Fire sing for the dead? Well, not exactly. A quick look at the lyrics reveals a very narrow set of topics/themes but none, until the final track, that actually come directly to terms with death.


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They'd appeared on my radar long before I finally went out and bought the album. I knew that a bunch of people related to the band died just before or during the making of it. I knew that this influenced the making of the album and it was for this reason that I was reticent about listening to it. That and the fact that David Bowie seemed to think that they were great. But sometimes curiosity overcomes prejudice and I decided to give them a go. Now then: I have enough miserable albums to last me a lifetime – Leonard Cohen and Red House Painters sit in the 'upbeat' section of my music collection – and I wasn't, in truth, looking forward to another slice of tasteful misery. When I saw the list of instruments my heart fell a little further. Look at all those violins.


 


Nothing, therefore, prepared me for the full fury of the opening track, Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels). There is nothing else on the album to compare to this song and whilst this may seem a little harsh one is reminded of Joseph Heller's reply to the journalist who told him that he had never managed to match the genius of Catch 22. Heller said that this was true, but that no one else had managed it either. What is so great about Neighbourhood 1 is that it manages to be incredibly emotionally charged without hitting you over the head with meaningful or maudlin lyrics. Nor does it have a singer that tries to put emotional into his voice like all those dreadful American singer – songwriters. This is a song, and a voice, that are trying to stop themselves from losing control. They just about manage it. The song builds with guitars, drums, pianos and violins and Win Butler's voice rises and rises, as though reaching for something that will remain, as it did for Tantalus, forever out of reach.


 


Do Arcade Fire sing for the dead? Well, not exactly. A quick look at the lyrics reveals a very narrow set of topics/themes but none, until the final track, that actually come directly to terms with death. Basically every single track deals with combinations of the following: snow/ice/cold; children/parents/mothers/babies; neighbourhoods/bedrooms/streets; eyes/eyelids/tears. It is my view that far more emotion can be wrung from songs with slightly oblique lyrics than from ones where everything is spelt out. It is also my view that it is much more satisfying for the consumer (of any form of culture) to have an artist that is daring enough to allow you to feel the emotions for yourself as opposed to having one telling you what to think all the time. The great success of this album is that Arcade Fire manage to be more Bergman than Spielberg in this regard.


 


But what do they sound like? Well, they rock, basically. Win Butler's voice is a strained tenor in the style of early David Byrne but it is much more out of control than Byrne's and, more to the point, doesn't try to strip all feeling from it as Byrne was wont to do. There are violins and xylophones and things like that, but the songs are all based around guitars and drums. Influences can be found if you really want to look – Neighborhood 2 (Laika) sounds a bit like late period Pere Ubu and Une Annee Sans Lumiere has Doolittle-esque moments – but really they sound pretty much themselves. They don't sound anything like The Jam or The Cure, which is something of a relief to me. There are quieter moments such as Crown of Love, which spends most of its time inhabiting the corpse of an old doo-wop song, but in the main these are pretty robust songs that are the antithesis of morbid introspection. True, the album tails off a bit towards the end, but there is more than enough quality here for us to hope that Arcade Fire won't need the grim reaper to carry on culling before they can produce their follow up.


 


Words: Christopher Dawson.