Montreal indie rock band Arcade Fire released their debut album, “Funeral,” in September 2004. The album is considered a classic by critics and fans among Arcade Fire’s discography and remains one of the most widely praised albums of the 2000s.
The main members at the time consisted of multi-instrumentalist Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury, Howard Bilerman and William Butler. Each of the band members had been experiencing grief over the death of family members during production of the record which was what inspired the name “Funeral.” The album itself deals with themes of family death, childhood reflection and the loss of innocence.
The opening track “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” begins with a melodic piano piece that evokes a heavy feeling of nostalgia. This coincides with the lyrics of the track, which set up the snowy and remote “neighborhood” the setting of the album is framed around. The track itself touches on feelings of escapism, family disruption, isolation from society and reminiscence of the past. The simple motif builds up and guides the listener through the absolutely pristine production on the song as it mixes indie rock, folk and chamber rock instrumentals with the grand emotional chorus to portray a beautiful and uplifting atmosphere. In short, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” is absolutely enrapturing from beginning to end.
The following track “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)” continues with the neighborhood aesthetic as it touches on a family member who abandons them for a greater life only to never return. The song touches on the idea that people in our life will leave us unexpectedly whether it be from passing away without warning or isolating themselves to the passage of time. “Une année sans lumière” takes us to the band’s roots in Montreal with a mix of English and French lyrics as it touches on the loss of loved ones.
The next track “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” leads us back into the neighborhood setting with heavy and compound instrumentation with lyrics that showcase the imminent dread and sorrow that our narrator experiences while coming to terms with the faltering of older generations, the uncertainty of the future and the death of innocence.
The final neighborhood track is “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles),” which features more toned-down strings and vocals as the narrator, recalling from a childhood point of view that trying to escape the passage of time won’t help overcome his grief or make him less frustrated with the world around him.
“Crown of Love” is a soulful and uplifting ballad about the narrator’s undying love for his lover only for that affection to not be returned back. The upbeat and anthemic chorus and sweeping strings build up over the course of the song into an incredible payoff which contrasts the melodramatic subject matter.
“Wake Up” remains one of Arcade Fire’s more popular songs to date. Within a vacuum, the track touches on themes of the human spirit and how children struggle with the adjustment of growing up in an unforgiving society. The plucky pop chorus and sweeping instrumentals help to create an optimistic mood much like “Crown of Love.”
The final few tracks help reflect on the extended themes of childhood with “Haiti” telling the story of member Regine Chassagne and her family heritage from the aforementioned country. The fan favorite “Rebellion (Lies)” reflects further on themes of escapism and emotional resonance with parental figures and uses sleep as a metaphor from the perspective of a growing child. The album closer “In the Backseat” states that we grow a sudden sense of control when our parental figures pass away and that sometimes we aren’t ready.
Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” is a triumphant debut album that has connected with millions of listeners around the world. The themes of death and the transition of the old generation to the new is done masterfully, as the magic of “Funeral” will never fade with the sand of time.