Revisiting Arcade fire, My thoughts on Funeral

A creative process like writing a song requires digging into the core of your heart and looking for insight into past experiences, however painful it may be. Released on September 14, 2004, the Canadian indie rock band  Arcade Fire’s debut studio album Funeral has stood the test of time with its invigorating outlook on mortality and the unshaken truth of impermanence in life.

With artistic expression tied with superficiality in mainstream music, the album encompasses the earnest feelings of loss of a loved one and the emotional recovery that goes with it. Although the album is centred around the intense feelings of separation, it still manages to bring about a restoration of spirit through overcoming despair. 

Arcade Fire started out as a small indie band with a limited fanbase and went on to achieve mainstream success ( Source: YouTube )

Funeral was recorded around the time when the band members dealt with the agony of losing their family members. Régine Chassagne’s grandmother died in June 2003, Win and William Butler’s grandfather (swing musician Alvino Rey) in February 2004, and Richard Reed Parry’s aunts in April 2004. 

The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2005 for Best Alternative Music Album

The Inspiration Behind Funeral’s Artwork

The artwork for Funeral was designed by artist and photographer Tracy Maurice who met the band in 2004 through mutual friends. The artist had not worked on album art prior to it. However, in an interview, she spoke about how the songs were the inspiration behind her outstanding album art. 

The artwork of Funeral ( Source: Arcade Fire Official Site )

“The piece was primarily inspired by the music itself, the core themes of the record,” Tracy tells us. “Childhood, death and loss, the past. As well as a few reference images from the band, mainly old birth and death certificates.” 

 I had never created album artwork before, but I have a deep love of music and art, so I thought that it would be a great project to work on. I met up with Win and Régine and showed them a few things that I had been playing around with, and they thought that it was the right fit and would work well with music.”

Let’s look at some of the amazing songs on the album.

Neighbourhood #1(Tunnels)

“Tunnels”  metaphors the narrow getaway in an obscured neighbourhood for two young lovers who are so immersed into each other that they have no sense of awareness of the privation that life throws at them.

The song paints a picture of how the struggles of their parents and friends are of no relevance to them as they have yet to try it out to eventually come upon a similar or a totally different perspective through their own experiences. 

Official Music Video Of Neighbourhood ( Source: YouTube )

The song has a slow start with a high octave piano melody, almost resembling a music box. The rhythm gradually speeds up creating tension and buildup for a chaotic exploding chorus. The distant sounding guitars follow the piano melody and the second chorus intensifies even more with the drums and vocals coming even stronger. Towards the end, Win Butler goes all out releasing all the tension with his heartfelt singing. 

Wake Up

Wake up is an empowering carol of self-reliance and unrestrained insight into life. The song strongly holds out against the idea of living with one’s own eyes closed and rather inclining towards the trends engrained by the grown-ups. Isolating our inner voice only makes us indifferent, cynical and unable to feel or act. But tracing back our childlike innocence is what gets us out from under all our racked up anguish. The song waves a red flag against advice that makes us bitter and establishes how seeing through the pain all the way is invigorating.

Late legend David Bowie sings Wake Up along with the group ( Source: YouTube )

The intro guitar immediately gets you on the hook. The groove is powerful and the build-up of cascading chord progressions sets up the song for an emotional outburst, and as much as the subtle string sounds create a drone to soak you in, you almost won’t realize it’s there because as you’re pulled in by the choir. 

The hair raising song, featured perfectly in Ben Stiller’s adventure comedy-drama film The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, was also played by the band U2 in loudspeakers during their concert. The English singer-songwriter David Bowie covered it with Arcade Fire the same year in Fashion Rocks.

Rebellion (Lies)

This song, with a cheery swing, takes upon the idea that Wake Up has set up to an entirely new level. The fears that society puts on us makes us lose all our vitality. This leads us to build invisible walls around us, making us even more heedless and disconnected from love. The song puts a spotlight on trusting our own intuition with scepticism towards exploitation and insecurities imposed by the people we encounter in our lives. 

Like some of the other songs on the album, Rebellion centres the song around a suspending single note and continues to develop the rhythm around it. This song also uses violin for melody. The single note shifts towards the violins creating a subtle contrast in melody adding to the richness of the song. 

Remastered video of Rebellion ( Source: YouTube )

Win Butler expressed his thoughts on the song in an interview with New Musical Express on December 8, 2007 : 

90 percent of what people are forced to listen to in a day is someone trying to force them to buy something that they don’t need. At a certain point you’ve got to say, ‘shut up.’ It’s like someone poking you in the face all the time. You can just ignore it and try to go about your life in a certain way or say, ‘stop hitting me.’ You have to say, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop hitting me. Stop pushing me.’ I think that’s rebellion. People should rebel against us. ‘Oh, we’re better than Arcade Fire, we’re not going to use guitars, we’re going to use some sampling program and make music that’s better than those a–holes.’ You know what I mean? That’s really important.

Rebellion (Lies) managed to rank #19 on the UK Singles Chart making it the most successful song on the album. 

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Atif Abidi
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