When I first heard of Arcade Fire, it was around 2008ish. They had been around a little while and built a more than solid indie following of early adopters. But they were still a year or two away from winning Grammys and becoming the massive, arena filling, international neo rock stars they are today. I knew I was late to the Arcade Fire party, but now as I consciously listen to Funeral for the first time, I’m surprised to find out just how late.
Now more than a decade old, their debut album immediately proves why they have since gone on to become the massive, arena filling, international neo rock stars. I’m, no Arcade Fire aficionado, but even on opening track Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), you can hear the band that they are today. This is a surprisingly fully formed first track from a band’s first album. Maybe they experienced serious growing pains before getting into the studio, but if so, they well and truly had them out of their system by the time they recorded Funeral.
With so many members, it’s safe to assume that Arcade Fire is a real group effort. But you can’t deny that the distinct sound supplied by vocalists and guitarist Win Butler is big part of it. He brings a pent up energy to songs like Neighborhood #2 (Laika) that sounds like he could explode at any moment. That feeling also translates to the songs. You could never describe this band as heavy, but there’s a feeling of danger that things could get out of hand at any minute.
With Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) the music and the rest of the band lives up to that same danger of getting out of hand. While Butler takes things down a notch, the music becomes much darker, much more foreboding, much less predictable, even after you feel like you’re in the groove, right along with it.
When things are brought back and restrained on Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) it proves that Arcade Fire and Funeral can still demand just as much attention, without grabbing you by the shirt collars and yelling in your face. Crown of Love isn’t quite as effective at keeping my attention while slowing things down, but I think that less about not being a good song, and more about being a victim of coming after such a strong opening half of Funeral.
Wake Up is the first song I remember being able to identify as an Arcade Fire song, It hit me hard back then and it’s lost none of its impact now. Its soaring choir of singers, its haunting lyrics, it’s driving beat and guitars. It’s dark and gorgeous at the same time.
Then it’s back to the barley contained tension of the opening tracks with Rebellion (Lies). So much of Win Butler’s lyrics sound like they’re sung through a metaphorical clenched jaw, and it really, really works.
I’ve never disliked or dismissed Arcade Fire. Everything I’ve heard I’ve always liked fine enough. And I think I’ve listened to each of their last two or three albums on release. I’ve just never felt compelled to re-listen or dig deep. But now, after intentionally giving Funeral a go, I kind of get it. I understand how Arcade Fire became massive, arena filling, international neo rock stars