Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Crack in Everything: Funeral

A Crack in Everything is this thing I do occasionally where I take a classic album that I really like and point out everything that's wrong with it. I've already tackled seminal works by John Grant, The Smiths, R.E.M. and Neutral Milk Hotel - today, I'm needling the first Arcade Fire album. Sit back and enjoy...

As much as I love the king-sized songwriting of Neon Bible and the zesty funk of Reflektor, I suspect that Funeral will always be my favourite Arcade Fire album. Any disc that contains Wake Up and Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) and Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) *and* Rebellion (Lies) has clearly earned its place in the hearts of all men, but it also holds the fondest memories for me personally - not merely because it's older than the band's more recent albums, but because it found me at a far rawer stage of my musical development, which meant that its dagger plunged far closer to my heart than it perhaps would if I discovered the album today.

Having said all that, Funeral isn't perfect, and today I'll explain why.

Let's start with Haiti (above). My feelings towards this track are somewhat bitter, largely because it's put on the same pedestal as other early classics like...well, those four songs I mentioned earlier, when clearly it deserves no such favour. The band still seem to play this one live at every show, and I find that choice immeasurably bizarre - why leave out such thrilling material as Headlights Look Like Diamonds and (Antichrist Television Blues) if you're going to waste a setlist slot on this? Is anybody at an Arcade Fire gig really that desperate to hear the intro from Rebellion?

That's how I always saw Haiti, anyway: a pleasant but slight track whose only real purpose was to set up Rebellion, a far more important song. I suppose it gives Regine an opportunity to advertise the fact that she can speak French, but the same could be said of Une Année Sans Lumiere, and that track plays a far more crucial role on this album than Haiti does (specifically, ...Lumiere serves as a nice calm moment in between neighborhoods 2 and 3). In hindsight, Haiti was also an early sign of the rhythmic territory that would be explored with more gusto on Reflektor, but that retrospective foreshadowing is really the most interesting thing about it.

And yet a recent Uncut review described Haiti as "a highlight of their 2004 debut", and I find that simply maddening. It's akin to seeing You, Who Do You Hate? described as one of Mansun's prime cuts - it's a great track, sure, but it's really just a prelude to Wide Open Space.

Anyway. Now that The Haiti Rant is off my chest, I can move on to larger matters, namely Funeral's thematic content. It seems to me that its main theme is childhood, and that's great - I love how different aspects of that central focus are explored throughout the album. For example, Wake Up is all about how sad it is to grow up, while In the Backseat is about a lack of responsibility, an ode to the freedom that disappears in a puff of smoke when we become adults, 

I just wish that Funeral would stick to the script and spend all of its ten tracks on the childhood/growing up thing, rather than branching out into other areas as it occasionally does. Crown of Love is a rather incongruous song about unrequited love, and while the Neighborhood suite stays somewhat relevant to the central theme by looking at a big community through the eyes of a minor, those four songs do feel like their own thing, separate from the rest of Funeral.

Oh, and I have absolutely no idea what Une Année Sans Lumiere is all about, but I'm pretty sure that those impressionistic French lyrics aren't really on the same track as Wake Up et al. Here's a rough translation, courtesy of a comment on SongMeanings:

"A year without light...I mount a horse that is wearing night, my eyes light you up."

Of course, Funeral is still an utterly stellar album - as are Queen of Denmark, Automatic for the People, and all the other albums I've covered in this corner of the blog. Here for your enjoyment is Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles); it's not the best song on this CD, but it's probably the most underrated.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely my fave Arcade Fire album, and I see where you're going in terms of concept, but I quite like the flexibility of the lyrical theme on this album. Arcade Fire might be victims of their own success here as well, in as much as not many other bands stick so rigidly to themes but we don't highlight it? Having said all that, massively agree with your observations on Haiti.