On September 14th, 2004, Arcade Fire’s Funeral was released in the US and Canada, almost a half year later followed by a release in Europe and performances at various festivals. On August 20th, 2005, the band played the Dutch Lowlands festival and obliterated everyone. I subsequently bought the sensational debut album, which very quickly turned into one of my all-time favorite albums.
Arcade Fire was founded in 2001 by Win Butler and Josh Deu. The two had met at high school in Montreal, Canada, and became more serious with music upon entering University. During one of their rehearsals they met Régine Chassagne, a music student who was soon added to the line-up of the band. They recorded a couple of demos and started performing. The three core members were accompanied by a number of other musicians, the main characteristic being that they all played several instruments, with band members changing them up between songs. It’s something Arcade Fire does to this day.
Over the course of the summer of 2002 the initial line-up started to fall apart. Co-founder Deu was one of the members to leave, he wanted to pursue his studies. In the meantime recordings, that ended up on the Arcade Fire EP, were made. While promoting the EP the band got into a fight on stage, upon which several band members quit. The band’s future looked bleak. After enlisting Richard Reed Parry, William Butler (Win Butler’s brother) and Tim Kingsbury the promotional tour for the EP was continued and the band’s existence was solidified. In the summer of 2003 drummer Howard Bilerman was added to the band’s line-up and recordings for the debut album could commence. Record company Merge Records was psyched about the band and offered them a contract.
Win Butler and Régine Chassagne married each other in 2003. They remain a pair to this day, play in the band to this day and became parents to their first born son in 2013.
And the name, does that really refer to a fire in an arcade?
It’s not a rumor, it’s based on a story that someone told me. It’s not an actual event, but one that I took to be real. I would say that it’s probably something that the kid made up, but at the time I believed him.
© 2005 Win Butler, Rolling Stone Magazine
Funeral is Arcade Fire’s debut album, which was released on September 14th, 2004, in the US and Canada by Merge Records. Five months later, on February 15th, 2005, the album was released in the rest of the world.
Recordings for the album commenced in August of 2003 at the Hotel2Tango recording studio in Montreal. The recordings were completed during the course of the rest of the year 2003.
Within the first day of release the album was heralded as a modern day classic. Reviewers around the world tumbled over each other in their praise of the album and band. And audiences started flocking as well. Particularly due to a number of exhilarating festival shows, the band gained an impressive number of followers within a year. Two years after the release the band played the prestigious Glastonbury festival, during which audience participating really stood out. The entire field sang along to the Arcade Fire songs. An unprecedented, impressive and goose bumps inducing feat for such a ‘young’ band.
But what is it then that makes the album so good? Hearing is believing, so buy/download/stream it and listen. It’s a journey that never tires:
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Arcade Fire introduce themselves exactly as they are: romantic, dreamy. The main character (who is young) wants to leave, get away from his life, away from his unhappy parents:
And if my parents are crying
Then I’ll dig a tunnel from my window to yours
Yeah, a tunnel from my window to yours
You climb out the chimney
And meet me in the middle
The middle of the town
And since there’s no one else around
We let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know
Then our skin gets thicker from living out in the snow
As the song progresses the lack of friends, and missing the parents, become noticeable. A beautiful theme musically supported by Arcade Fire, including the instrumentation they would become famous for. The standard bass, guitar, drums supplemented with all kinds of instruments, who, at the time, were common among singer-songwriters like Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart, but not in the world of rock: accordion, xylophone, horns, violin, etc. Musical and lyrical melancholy.
Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)
A song about the brother (Alexander) of the narrator. Alexander wants nothing to do with his family (“He tore our images out of his pictures / He scratched our names out of all his letter”). The reference to Laïka (the Russian dog that was the first living thing in outer space) is a dual one. Just like Laïka, the brother was the first one to travel far, far away, and the brother (like Laïka) would probably never return (alive). The song seems to address the (history of) a dysfunctional family:
When daddy comes home, you always start a fight
So the neighbors can dance in the police disco lights
Une Année Sans Lumière
Also known as A Year Without Light, this song is about finding love when surrounded by disapproval and death. It seems a lot heavier than it is wehen listening to it. It is a truly beautiful, sweet and convincing song.
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Glorious rhythm, smashing instrumentation and a passion that’s quite rare. What a song! Once again about parents that don’t add too much and children left to their own devices:
I woke up with the power out
not really something to shout about
Ice has covered up my parents hands
don’t have any dreams don’t have any plans
I went out into the night
I went out to find some light
Kids are swingin’ from the power lines
nobody’s home, so nobody minds
Such drive, funky, firm and irresistible.
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
The calm after the storm. The domesticity of the sound of kettles boiling on a fire. Time goes by, just as life comes and goes:
I am waitin’ ’til I don’t know when
cause I’m sure it’s gonna happen then
Time keeps creepin’ through the neighborhood
killing old folks, wakin’ up babies
just like we knew it would
Crown of Love
Laid-back song ending in an uptempo dance beat. Forigiveness is the central lyrical theme.
The masterpiece of Funeral, or Arcade Fire even? Many claim it and it is not without its merit. An impressive song which has grown into a classic euphoric live moment during the Arcade Fire shows. The lyrical melody seem to be created for a mass audience. The music and singing intensify ever more during the song:
If the children don’t grow up
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up
We’re just a million little god’s causin rain storms
turnin’ every good thing to rust
I guess we’ll just have to adjust
A great feat by this young band. A classic, revered by virtually everyone.
Chassagne’s parents fled Haiti during the 1960’s, when dictator Francois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, ruled and sent many to their death, including immediate family. A moving tribute to (the ghosts of) the deceased.
O so simple, yet so genius. The intro, bass drum, bass and piano motif, announces it: a world class song is underway. Once again a song on children versus adults: rebel!
People say that you’ll die
faster than without water
but we know it’s just a lie
scare your son, scare your daughter
Every time you close your eyes
In the Backseat
The album’s last song. It tells the tale of a girl losing her mother in a car crash. As an adult she is still afraid in the car, even ‘in the backseat’. It is unclear whether the lyrics are meant as a literal account or as a metaphor to giving up, or surrendering, control to others which, at times, has disastrous consequences. Once again, beautiful and touching.
I like the peace
In the backseat
I don’t have to drive
I don’t have to speak
I can watch the countryside
And I can fall asleep
As stated, Funeral was almost immediately credited as a classic album that immediately entered many ‘best of all time’ lists. And rightfully so. After buying the album it stayed in my car cd-player for months on end. When it was time to write this article I hadn’t listened to it for quite some time. Upon playing, it immediately grabbed me again: pure enchantment!
It’s funny to realize that the band themselves were not aware what they had just created. The band’s personal goal was to sell 10,000 copies. If that number could be reached the mission had succeeded. The album sales reached 10,000 during the first week of release.
Many bands and artists were heavily impressed by the band and music. U2 took the band with them on their 2005 Vertigo tour and David Bowie performed with the band. In 2013 Bowie would appear on the Arcade Fire album Reflektor.
N.B.: In 2016 I published an article on the 10 best debuut albums on this blog. Funeral was part of the list.
The title Funeral was chosen after the album had been recorded. Recently, several band member had lost members of their family. Régine Chassagne’s grandmother, Win and William Butler’s grandfather (musician Alvino Rey) and Richard Reed Parry’s aunt all died in 2003 and 2004.
Five singles were culled from the album, of which the fourth (Rebellion (Lies)) was the most successful:
- Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
(released on June 20th, 2004)
- Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)
(released on March 28th, 2005)
- Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
(released on May 23rd, 2005)
- Rebellion (Lies)
(released on September 12th, 2005)
- Wake Up
(released on November 14th, 2005)
All songs written by Arcade Fire (Will Butler, Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, Tim Kingsbury, Richard Reed Parry), unless stated otherwise.
- Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) *
- Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)
- Une année sans lumière
- Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) *
- Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
- Crown of Love
- Wake Up
- Rebellion (Lies) **
- In the Backseat
|*||Arcade Fire and Joshua Deu|
|**||Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, Tim Kingsbury, Richard Reed Parry, Howard Bilerman and Joshua Deu|
The Japanese version, which I bought later, contains a bonus disc, which, besides two different versions of Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), consists of covers of My Buddy (written by Alvino Rey Orchestra) and Brazil (cover by Ary Barroso).
- Win Butler – vocals, guitar, piano, synthesizer, bass
- Régine Chassagne – vocals, drums, synthesizer, piano, accordion, xylophone, recorders, percussion
- Richard Reed Parry – guitar, synthesizer, organ, piano, accordion, xylophone, percussion, bass
- Tim Kingsbury – bass, guitar
- Howard Bilerman – drums, guitar
- William Butler – bass, xylophone, synthesizer, percussion
- Sarah Neufeld, Owen Pallett – violin
- Michael Olsen – cello
- Pietro Amato – horn
- Anita Fust – harp
- Sophie Trudeau, Jessica Moss – violin on Wake Up
- Gen Heistek – viola on Wake Up
- Arlen Thompson – drums on Wake Up
The band would release brilliant record after brilliant record, up to and including Everything Now, their latest album to date. Ever since Funeral I have followed the band closely, even joining the online community Us Kids Now, where information, music and video was shared, encouraged by the band.
In the meantime I have witnessed the band multiple times live and every time it turned into an event to remember, filled with emotion, unity, exciting and impressive music. Next year more on Arcade Fire, when The Suburbs has its 10th anniversary.
For now: enjoy the lasting beauty of Funeral!
What do you think of Funeral and Arcade Fire? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Arcade Fire debuts with the brilliant Funeral. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Last minute addition
On September 12th I received the Arcade Fire newsletter. The band also acknowledges the 15 year anniversary of Funeral and calls for sharing memories using the hashtag #Funeral15.
All lyrics fragments: 2004, Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire – Live 09/29/2005 First Avenue Minneapolis image: thecurrent.org
Arcade Fire – Win Butler and Régine Chassagne image: blogspot.com
Arcade Fire – Funeral image: musictech.net
Arcade Fire – Live 2004 image: neogaf.com
Arcade Fire – 2004 image: consequenceofsound.net
Arcade Fire – Funeral – Billboard image: lamar.com
Arcade Fire – Funeral – Singles image: discogs.com
Arcade Fire – Funeral – Partial backcover image: jpc.de
Arcade Fire – Wake Up ad image: stickitonyourwall.com
Arcade Fire – Newsletter 09/12/2019 afbeelding: Arcade Fire