25 Masterworks: Arcade Fire – Funeral

My Spin on Masterworks: 10 of 25

Arcade Fire

Funeral

Merge, 2004

FuneralWe’re not supposed to announce it plainly because it sounds corny, embarrassing, and so blatantly obvious that we shouldn’t even dignify it with attention, but there is nothing more precious in this life than the people we love.

Love is, after all, what drives us to achieve, and is more often than not at the core of what we strive for. We call our private endeavours “passion projects”, we uphold proverbs like “follow your heart”, and above all, we ache for more time to spend with our loved ones, in hope that we can stay connected with them for as long as possible. Soppy as it may sound, love is the natural bedrock of our existence. And yet, we still need regular reminders of this simple truth, as we divert ourselves in search of less emotionally nourishing objectives. Good God, y’all, nearly fifty years ago The Beatles blanketed Western civilisation with the whole message in five concise words: ‘All You Need is Love’. More than that, they made it stupidly catchy. How much more direct could you possibly get?

I’ve spent weeks and weeks mulling over how I can possibly do justice to Funeral by Arcade Fire in this blog series. Released a full decade ago, Funeral remains absolutely peerless in its breadth and power. With its sheer intensity and beauty, it seems to encompass everything, inciting a wild adulation in its listeners that is largely unrivalled by its contemporaries. Consequently, I have found it more than a little intimidating to attempt condensing its magical powers into 1,000 neatly ordered words. Ultimately, though, it’s clearest to focus directly on the force that most strongly glues this record together: its overwhelming sense of community.

Of course, Funeral is far too big to be reduced to a single meaning. Its devout following can be largely accredited to its open-armed inclusivity. However you personally choose to construe the heart-on-sleeve proclamations by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, that personal interpretation is key to what makes this album such a cherished work of art. For me, my breath is stolen away for thousands of reasons. The music is triumphant and heartswelling without losing its slightly scrappy edge. Win Butler’s words are visceral and instantaneous, connecting emotionally without the need for total clarity. But most of all, this album is a potent reminder of the importance of our friendships, relationships, and families.

Over fifty colossal minutes, Arcade Fire wrestle with the chaos of the neighbourhoods that we traverse in our lifetimes. By “neighbourhoods”, I’m referring to both the physical spaces we become attached to, and our inter-personal networks: our soulmates, our confidantes, and those precarious links we have with our loved ones. These relationships are what usher us through our lives, in a swirl of chance encounters, freak accidents, and coincidences. Our lives defy control; we can’t predict what’s around the next corner, whether it be revelation, triumph, or tragedy. All we can do while attempting to steer through the obstacles ahead is to find comfort and solidarity with others. The minds of Arcade Fire are particularly attuned to this notion, and it underpins much of their catalogue.

For whatever reason, I’ve always felt that this great Canadian brigade has exuded a familial vibe. Unlike the majority of their mid-00s peers, Arcade Fire do not boast a gang mentality; instead they resemble a homespun circus group with a penchant for theatrical mischief. They even eclipse proper musical families, radiating a firmer bond than the likes of the tempestuous Followill brothers. It’s present in several facets: the centrifugal marriage of Butler and Chassagne, the brotherly bond of the Butler siblings. Then we have the malleability of the group, their warmth and sparky chemistry, the sheer effervescence of their live performances, and their semblance of bravado. With each of these elements combined, Arcade Fire seem like a unit bound by blood, even if such ties only exist between a handful of members.

1 Arcade Fire chorniclesoftimes

Arcade Fire, clockwise from left: Régine Chassagne, Will Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara, Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, Win Butler (photo: chroniclesoftimes.com)

The band’s music has consistently reflected such tight-knit closeness: both Neon Bible and Reflektor touch on lofty concepts as viewed through the wide eyes of youngsters, and The Suburbs is a haunting tribute to the pains of listless childhood. The latter peaks with ‘Suburban War’: a heart-rending lament for a friendship torn apart over time, and the album concludes with the message “if I could have it back / all the time that we wasted […] I would love to waste it again and again and again”. Funeral itself focuses on children, parents, and families in times of tumult and togetherness. The album title, of course, was conceived during the recording process, as several band members were beset with tragic news of the passing of family members. Perhaps this is where the overriding mood of jubilation spills from. How best to combat the dread of death than with the life-affirming closeness brought about through making music? Rather than an album soaked in grief, Funeral is the sound of clutching your loved ones a little tighter, and being grateful for every single second you get to waste with them.

At every turn its lyrics reference innocence played off against cynicism, the wisdom that can be wrung from simplicity, and that crucial notion of unity: the tunnels that we traverse in our lifetimes as we try to find a means of emotional connection. There are webs that broaden (‘Crown of Love’) and those that break (‘In the Backseat’). The universal appeal rings through its cornerstone motifs – the kids, the towns, the arguments, the reconciliations, the families. Whether knowingly or not, Butler’s words have been received so rapturously by so many because every second is invested with imperfect, quavering, duende. “You change all the lead / Sleeping in my head to gold.”

It all hits me right in the heart. Every lyric moves me, every instrumental swell and screech pumps me with adrenaline, and the way the album ebbs and flows through each peak and trough is perfectly judged. Even the modest moments on here contain some element or another which excites my senses, sparking that indescribable moment of recognition and familiarity; of knowing exactly what somebody is singing about, even if it defies basic articulation. When those final minutes arrive at their dramatic, trembling crescendo, I feel I could bellow “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life!” with such conviction that I’d almost certainly pass out.

There’s no such thing as reading into it too much. Funeral can be whatever you want it to be, because every fibre tingles with promise. It is a titanic achievement in so many ways; a firework of an album whose musical and emotional potency has only escalated in the ten years since it first arrived. Additionally, while it hasn’t overshadowed the band’s subsequent output, it is the record of theirs which stands tallest, and most fiercely realises the emotions channelled by its authors and listeners alike. Its tenth birthday is all but the tiniest excuse to revisit it.

So revisit it, or discover it anew if you don’t already have it in your life. It reminds us of the beauty and frailty of our networks and neighbourhoods, and how they complete the lives we continually try to make sense of. Time speeds on as we sit strapped in the backseat, straining and straining to steer around the obstacles ahead. Of course, we can’t prepare ourselves for everything to come. All we can do instead is cherish one another’s companionship while we have the chance, and find fulfilment with the ones we are closest to. I feel like I’ll be learning to drive my whole life, and having heard Funeral, I suspect many others feel exactly the same way.

Funeral
1 – Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)
2 – Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)
3 – Une Année Sans Lumière
4 – Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)
5 – Neighbourhood #4 (7 Kettles)
6 – Crown of Love
7 – Wake Up
8 – Haïti
9 – Rebellion (Lies)
10 – In the Backseat
 

21/11/2014

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Posted on November 22, 2014, in 25 Masterworks, The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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