The Arcade Fire release most essential album in a decade!
By Lauren Hysek
These days most albums seem to have expiration dates. They fill up radio time for a few months and are then relegated to the trash heap indefinitely. They should just affix stickers to the shrink-wrap: "Best If Heard Before Above Date."
However, every once in a while an album creeps up and showcases itself in so much timeless splendor that it makes all that drab radio music seem worthwhile. Kind of like the Eagles losing three in a row made the 4th attempt and subsequent win so much sweeter, so the kind of innovation and sonically glorious music on the Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” is appreciated all the more when placed among the uninspired nonsense the big record companies churn out.
Dispensing with the "radio music is the worst" manifesto, the music of the Arcade Fire is worth a word or two. Difficult it was trying to think of an album as veritably alive as “Funeral” in recent memory. The irony of the title “Funeral” is brilliant, for never was there an album more full of hope, happiness and vigor. Death does not even seem to make a cameo appearance on the album; the lyrics seem to revel in the reality of unhappy feelings. Death, endings and sadness are more than just a part of life; they are facilitators, rendering persons who encounter such things more red-cheeked and warm than they were before.
The sound that the Arcade Fire pumps out is rich, layered and complex and influences can be heard all over the album. There is a lot of musical tipping of the hat to 80s classics such as David Bowie, the Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division. Win Butler, the male lead vocalist almost sounds like David Byrne of the Talking Heads, but don't hold him to it, because the tone, speed and volume of the voice is always changing. Regine Chassagne, the female vocalist, is just as undecided about her vocal style. Sometimes she could sound a little Bjork-esque, on other tracks she sounds whispery and sweetly melts her voice caramel-like into the music.
At times, the lyrics are enigmatic, but the crawling rhythms and bombastic crescendos will either make you forget about the confusing words or beg you to think about them in greater detail. "Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels)," the opening track on the album, begins with a muted drum beat and stealthily implemented vocals, “…and if the snow buries my, my neighborhood,” you get the impression you’ve just walked into a continuing story. Jump right in, there are things happening, and more things will come later. The excitement builds up to the fourth track which is the third "Neighborhood" and is subtitled "Power Out," where the glockenspiel-embroidered, drum-beating, piano-fueled wonder song takes the listener to uncharted sonic territory.
Other tracks shine in their differentiation. "Haiti" is sung by the woman in the group, transporting you from the suburban goings-on of the "Neighborhood" to a paradise where steel drums accompany French and English lyrics about the turmoil that pervades a beautiful Caribbean nation. Later, "In the Backseat" also sung by the woman, Regine Chassagne, is a shocking display of pure heart-wrenching musical bliss. As ironic as that sounds, it is the perfect conclusion to the album, in that the piece is a part of a whole, and the both of them are at once heartbreaking and triumphant. The song that starts out so quietly reaches fever-pitch when you can almost see Chassagne pumping her fist in the air, singing, “I can watch the countryside!” as heartbeat drums and quivering strings (yes! Strings!) accompany her plea to remain in the backseat of life, because driving sometimes gets too scary, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life.”
Not only does that line end the album in glorious fashion, it simultaneously drives home the theme of the album which is the prevailing truth about life in our post-modern world: Life is a constant struggle, you are learning all the time, but without the trials, it is difficult to feel very alive. The Arcade Fire have arrived to remind us that life is vibrant and it’s time to get up and live it.