Last night it was our favourite Irish album of the decade, tonight we look further afield and take a deep sigh because our overall pick from the noughties could have just as easily been one of the following ‘Asleep In The Back’, ‘Is This It?’, ‘Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place’, ‘In The Dream of The Sea Life’, ‘The Great Eastern’, ‘Source Tags & Codes’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’, ‘And The Glass Handed Kites’. Instead we’ve gone for ‘Funeral’, an album that is without weakness, an album with such an unshakeable sense of greatness it will likely be still be revered 50 years from now. What follows is a review I wrote in early 2005 about the album, it was yet to break but even at that stage it was sounding like a genuine classic.
“For those people who only read the first paragraph of a review I may as well let you know straight away that this is going to be the most important album of 2005. What we have is an album of ‘The Stone Roses’, ‘Loveless’, ‘The Great Eastern’ and ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ proportions. This Montreal 5-piece have pretty much come out of nowhere but as you know the best presents come wrapped as surprises. The Arcade fire have been together for a relatively short time (summer 2003). The seeds were sown at Concordia University where Wim Butler met Regine Chassagne (they later married). A little look back into their collective backgrounds reveals some diverse musical influences such as swing and jazz, which have filtered into the sound that they create. ‘Funeral’ was further shaped by the deaths of some of the bands family members during the recording of the album; despite this for most of the time the music is hugely uplifting. What you have (despite what the song titles might lead you to think) is 10 succinctly different pieces of music. If the songs were people they would deeply schizophrenic such is the volatility to which they veer from one persuasion to another. With adventures aplenty the album takes some getting used to but this also means its longevity is guaranteed. Trying to lump the Arcade Fire into any scene is redundant, their output is fresh and unique; dramatic and theatrical one minute, circular and upbeat the next.
‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’ has a fairytale theme yet the soundtrack is like a cultured bull in an ornamental cake shop. The frenetic percussion bolsters Wim Butler who sings like he is about to cry. As the momentum gallops the singer can’t keep up and instead gleefully whoops to neck hair-raising effect. ‘Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)’ must be a fascinating place to live, what with vampires, French horns and neighbours dancing in the police lights. The Gallic influence (hey they are from Quebec after all) continues apace with ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’ that skips between serene peace and maracas inspired trip through the shadows with a guitar shakedown that is as reckless as it is inspired. As we hit the molten core Neighbourhood #2 (Power Out) provides a full-on indie escapade crammed full of scattered guitar playing and runaway choruses.
While the interlude provided by ‘Neighbourhood #4 (Kettles)’ and ‘Crown Of Love’ suddenly slows the tempo the shiny angles exposed titillate your aural cavities to such an extent that when ‘Crown Of Love’ swaps the genteel strings for its chariot joyriding friends you may find yourself manically jogging on the spot. ‘Wake Up’ play a similar hand, if a little more majestically. The background vocals boost the already deranged production that sprays sounds about like fireworks on New Years Eve. By now a familiar pattern has emerged. There is a distinct lack of 3-minute pop wonders, this is wonderful music but the reward is at the end of a long and windy yellow brick road. Take ‘Haiti’ which has that wonderful knack of sounding uneven without being abrasive. Chassagne is content to hide her vocals in the background while the machines provide the harmonies. About 2 minutes in the tune throws up pure jangle to solidify the amazing jingle. ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ is as close as you’ll get to a guaranteed instant hit on ‘Funeral’. Echoing the classic alternative romper stomper this wipes away the intricate web intricately weaved by previous tracks, think of it as a stereo sorbet. Chassagne comes across all Icelandic elfin towards the death on ‘In The Back Seat’. The crisp vocal delivery sits easily with the stirring string section and intermittent guitar rally generating a volcano of sounds where the lava is a sea of pentatonics. As the notes transform from major to minor most listeners will probably be aghast at the wonderful explosions of noise.
For those who only read the final paragraph of a review this is the most important record of 2005 and you must own it. It contains 10 pieces of music that will infect your world like a happy inducing virus inspiring the average and coaxing the talented. On this evidence the Arcade Fire could be the way forward. Their creative juices are as appetising as a desert trolley and their adventurous streak continually unearth priceless musical artefacts. Funeral is a precious wealth of engaging music to be cherished forevermore.” KD
The Arcade Fire – Haiti