This week on Classic Albums, Caz Tran looks at 2004 debut record from Canada's Arcade Fire, Funeral.
“Sleeping is giving in, No matter what the time is, Sleeping is giving in, So lift those heavy eyelids.”
It’s the type of bombast that’s only saved from cliché or being regarded as preachy because it comes from, and sounds like, a record influenced by personal loss and grief.
During the making of Funeral, a number of Arcade Fire members lost family members, most notably Win and Will Butler’s grandfather Alvino Rey, a swing-era bandleader and music pioneer who helped develop the first electric guitar.
Lyrics like ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ form a suite of songs on Arcade Fire’s emotion swept, melodically soaring debut, Funeral; a grand vision which arrived fully-formed from this previously little-known Montreal based band.
The album was like a warm but firm embrace, designed to surprise and stir, and its release in 2004 signaled the arrival of a major new musical force.
On stage, Arcade Fire look every bit the imposing carnival act, ready to entertain but reaching for the connection with their audience too.
An array of attractive instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, accordion, sitar, pan pipes among countless more add to the heady charm of this group of multi-instrumentalists.
Husband and wife, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne are at the heart of this musical family. Win’s stoic magnetism has something resembling a troubled evangelist. Paired with Regine’s bright, relentless energetic spark, it makes for an intriguing contrast.
In the Butler family, as Win told Robbie, Marieke and The Doctor in 2008, “…being a musician is like being an accountant; it’s like the safest, most normal thing.”
Perhaps not quite the accountant, but Win’s Mormon upbringing brought a lot to bear on this record.
The songs and themes on Funeral showed how the disorientation and pain of loss could be channeled and transformed through a communal catharsis.
Butler’s lyrics threaded experiences and flashes of childhood memories with mortality. They made cascading, uplifting melodies that made you feel safe, joyful and thrilled all at once. They made optimism not only a personal outlook in life, but a shared human experience, pretty much perfected the congregational euphoria of the group “whoa-oh-oooh-oh-oh” along the way (see ‘Wake Up’).
Funeral’s distinct sound and the way it evocatively explored the themes it did on this album set Arcade Fire apart from so many other bands that emerged in the 2000s.
Their big picture lyrics and rock-pop-folk jamboree melodies provided for a universally infectious calling card. It’s easy to see why this band and their best-loved album’s influence is still felt to this day.