Given that The Arcade Fire have made the New York Times
and all, chances are you're sick of Funeral
and have already moved on to fall in love with your next quirky, intelligent husband-and-wife (or brother-and-sister)-based band. But if you haven't heard this record, why the hell not? Go! Buy it! I'll wait.
When (like this one) a band's debut full-length is buoyed by mucho hype-o, the backlash tends to come when audiences realize that these people aren't the shining geniuses they were thought to be (and no matter how jaded you are, certain bands do still inspire that hero worship) -- just a bunch of musicians who happen to have made a good record and enjoyed the luxury of getting it promoted the right way at the right time. Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the married nucleus of The Arcade Fire, have undoubtedly benefited from a certain amount of luck. They've had good help as well, in the form of an extensive list of contributors and fellow band members Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Win's brother Will.
Listening to Funeral takes a bit of patience. With most of the songs, the payoff doesn't come right away; in some cases, it sneaks up on you after several spins. With an enclosed programme of players and lyrics and recurring themes alluding to an ongoing story, the record unabashedly proclaims its theatricality even before you've heard a note. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" fades in like a soundtrack piece, crescendoing into orchestral glory as Win Butler sings in a honeyed but slightly tremulous warble. "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" follows the initial burst of bombast with a sparser intro of lightly tapped toms, sleigh bells and accordion. Butler's voice comes slightly distorted and seemingly from a great distance, relating how "Alexander, our older brother / Set out for a great adventure / He tore our images out of his pictures / He scratched our names out of all his letters." One of Funeral's many strengths is Butler and Chassagne's evocative lyrics; Régine's lullaby on album closer "In the Backseat" ("I like the peace / In the backseat / I don't have to drive / I don't have to speak") reminds us not only of how nice it is to watch scenery unfurl on the freeway, but of the sense of security we lose once we're no longer children cozily ensconced in the family station wagon.
Family plays a role in Funeral -- not least in its naming, which was inspired by the deaths of several of the band members' relatives -- but unsurprisingly, it's a very duet-centric record. The songs' protagonists usually seem to be addressing one other person, inviting him or her into their slightly skewed but generally positive world. Despite the apparent death theme, Funeral is very life-affirming. In "Rebellion (Lies)", Win exhorts his listeners, "Sleep is giving in, no matter what the time is / Sleep is giving in / So lift those heavy eyelids" as if to say that life is short -- so live like you're going to die tomorrow, and love like you've never been hurt.
Whether the Arcade Fire's indie-cred star will continue to rise depends on a variety of factors, most of them far out of the band's control. However, their "feeling music for thinkers" aesthetic should serve them well; music is, after all, primarily an emotional buzz, and who wants to hear a million trite love songs? I have a hunch that Funeral is just the beginning of a beautiful career.