The Arcade Fire
he Arcade Fire make music the way Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych played baseball: in an ecstatic style all their own. When a song in Funeral starts out doing nothing for you, be patient, and eventually a devastating chord or crescendo will hit you. When a song grabs you from the start, that’s a guarantee it will also send you in loop-de-loops and leave you gasping. The ten songs of loud and beautiful orchestral pop contained in the Montreal sextet’s label debut should make them bigger than French toast, but is unlikely to inspire followers to their overpowering yet impeccably constructed sound. The reason: it’s hard to imagine many other bands talented enough to even poorly imitate this.
Frontman Win Butler’s lyrics rarely bother to rhyme, allowing their bizarre but always sincere sentiments to reach the ear even more directly. On one song (vampire adventure tale “Neighborhood #2 [Laika]”) he sounds a bit like David Byrne, but Butler resembles Byrne more in how singular and commanding his voice is than anything; like Byrne, what Butler does is something different and often something more than singing. Opener “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” is the sort of potentially-ridiculous-turned-fantastic work that only this voice and this band could sell, a story of love surviving through a new ice age, even as the lovers are losing language itself: “then we tried to name our babies/ But we forgot all the names that / The names we used to know!”
But although Butler and Regine Chassagne, playing six instruments each, may be the twin creative engines of the Arcade Fire, this is a big band: fifteen musicians are credited, including four that appear exclusively on “Wake Up,” a song that may be more overpowering than the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize???” Thus, it comes as no surprise that they sound best at their most bombastic, and Funeral succeeds in creating the sheer size of this sound where the Fire’s self-titled, self-released debut sometimes faltered, the cannonball difference between chamber music and “The 1812 Overture”.
“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” for example, starts with the crashing drums and guitar of something from The Cure’s Disintegration, but the manic energy of the tune comes from an endlessly repeated three-note xylophone riff—if anything played on a xylophone can be called a riff. “Crown Of Love” is a good piece of Bobby Darin-like 50s prom music, but when the full string arrangements come through at full volume, the song goes over the top into true poignancy. This full an orchestra could sound like a pretentious and overly mannered move, but the Arcade Fire are the rarest of rock creations: good musicians that sound like they’re really having fun.
The Arcade Fire chose the title Funeral more to honor the recent loss of several family members than to denote any concept, but strangely enough, the album is as celebratory, emotionally rich and life-affirming as a good funeral should be, but never is. Of course, this isn’t the end, but merely the beginning of a brand new thing. Children, wake up: the Arcade Fire is here to rouse you from your slumbers, and this September 14th is a bright new day.
Reviewed by: Josh Drimmer
Reviewed on: 2004-09-14