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A Look Back At Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”

I recently saw that Arcade Fire is going to be playing Merriweather Post Pavilion this August promoting their new album The Suburbs. As long as it doesn’t sell out, I will definitely be going  – plus you all know how I feel about Merriweather. Arcade Fire’s Funeral for me, is one of the defining albums of the 2000’s.  A lot of people might suggest that Death Cab For Cutie bought indie rock to the mainstream, but Arcade Fire really opened up the possibilities of what indie rock could do in the new century.  Funeral retains an indie mindset, but has the anthemic qualities of U2, Wyn Butler sings in style similar to David Bowie, yet it sounds completely original.  And 6 years after its initial release, it hasn’t lost any of its power that made it a wonderful listen the first time I heard it.

Like many people who attended U2’s Vertigo Tour in 2005, I wondered what the hell was that song that played as the band walked on the stage?  (If you went to any of those shows, you know what I’m talking about.)  It was the sound of a dozen voices singing in chant-like unison, with a simple guitar riff played underneath.  “Wake Up” is so big, ambitious, and simple, and it’s a song that has always seemed to exist.  After I found out the name of the song, I quickly went out and bought Funeral.  (Arcade Fire had been on my radar for a while, and though Funeral received fantastic reviews, I wasn’t sure about the title.)

Like many who have gone out and bought albums based on one single-song, I was afraid Funeral would be a bust.  Instead, I found an album that had a theme of loss yet retained an optimism.  For a debut album, Funeral also sounds like the third or fourth album by a band – it’s a very mature.  “Neighborhood #1” and “Rebellion (Lies)” both start off slow, but  reach a Spector-ish wall-of-sound by the end of the song.  Both songs gradually grow louder – that is it hard to pinpoint exactly when exactly what seems to be a ballad turns into a monster of a song. .  “Wake Up” might have been the song that got me into Arcade Fire, but “Rebellion” is the true masterpiece of the album.   I’m not sure if the song has a traditional verse-chorus structure. In fact its 5 minutes seem to build around Wynn singing, “everytime you close your eyes,” constrasted by Regine’s repeating, lies, lies” in the background.  But like Bowie’s “Heroes”, it’s the tension and the build-up that gives the song its ultimate pay-off.

By the time Neon Bible came out a few years later, I should have known better than to expect something as good as Funeral. Very few artists are able to create back-to-back masterpieces (and yes, I count Funeral as one of rock’s masterpieces).  But Neon Bible was not only disappointing because it wasn’t Funeral, but also because it seemed unmemorable, pretentious, and most offensively of all – bland. Arcade Fire to me, is many things but bland is not one of them.  I’m looking forward to The Suburbs, and hope Arcade Fire will bring out another masterpiece.

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