Kiefer’s Music Mondays: Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’

The indie rock royals made their perfect debut 15 years ago.

Once upon a time, a man, his brother, his wife, his friends spanning the globe from Haiti to Texas to Canada began a c’est la vie band… As most fairy tales begin, a darker element (the death of several relatives) led to the curation of one of the greatest forever afters in music history. The cri de coeur almost bred a genre of its own. Fifteen years ago, there was no neighborhood you could have grown up in that would prepare you for Arcade Fire and their 2004 debut Funeral.

Every facet of Funeral feels like nothing ever recorded, yet it’s deeply steeped in deja vu nostalgia. But au contraire, it’s so many things we know all too well, majestically put together. Collaging classical compositions, pop music schemes, indie rock methodology and art nouveau mindfulness with your average cultural de sac vernacular, Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and their troupe of multi-instrumentalists made real art about waging war against common pop music cliches.

An exploration of imagination and innocence, Funeral tests its own strength of spirit with the world it was born into. Arcade Fire’s debut counters society’s norms with an au natural approach. In its time, Funeral exposed the pop music industry for what it is. They wielded the weapon of their opposition for their cause, utilizing catchy hooks, stigmatizing riffs and mathematical song structure with billet doux empathy, Creole and Canadian French lyrics, classically trained artistry, and double entendre metaphors. A laissez-faire riposte to mainstream music norms won everything for Win and the crew!

Just like all their work since, Funeral is a concept album. This is the pièce de résistance of the record, and their entire output: strong concepts that feel personal and self-biographical, even as they seem to occur in fictitious worlds. There’s really no definitive narrative to the album, other than to say that each song happens specifically when it’s supposed to happen. If you start on side B and go to side A, the album doesn’t work.

Thematically, the song to song progression tells the story of how we explore the world throughout our lives; from childish wonder to teenage angst, from the fears and revelations of young adulthood to the attainment and insight we acquire through life’s experiences. Funeral is a celebration of raison d’être, a parade of joie de vivre.

Presenting this theme is a series of songs titled “Neighborhood 1-4.” The “Neighborhoods” convey every about coming of age, from lovestruck wonder, revelry in insubordination and miscalculated decisions to aching nostalgia and that boiling sense of urgency to finally begin our lives. Songs like “Crown of Love,” “Une année sans lumière” and “Haiti” act as cutaways transitions of the big picture. The ballad en masse,”Wake Up,” is the climax of the concept, a thunderous force majeure that comes to a crisis and resolution as it fixates on life’s faux pas and the almost humorous feeling of je ne sais quoi that we all experience.

“Rebellion (Lies),” meanwhile, is the coup de grâce; a steady war-march anthem of mot juste where this clique of misfits obliterate social clichés with beautiful, brilliant tongue-in-cheek bon mot. Metaphorically, the final track, “In the Backseat,” is a majestically glorious introspection on how our lives are hallmarked by the position we sit in the car, moving from the serene innocence of the backseat, longing for our day to drive, only to find that the driver is not only the one in charge but also the one responsible, and the only way to take that position is when the seat is no longer occupied.

There’s something to be said about perfect imperfection on this album. There is a certain amount of figurative physics going on where too much perfection would implode on itself. All its little quirks are what keeps Funeral interesting. There is so much going on that the dispersion of talent is almost necessary. The group works as fingers to a single hand playing arpeggio.

On the “chorus” to “Wake Up” for example octaves are changed throughout the songs progression and even the instrumentation rearranges several times as cues to emphasize the symbolic transitions in the song. It’s interesting because they’re essentially writing classical stanzas for modern music, which is really impressive.

Nominated for a Grammy, ranked in the top quarter of Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, reviewed as being in the top 90th percentile by every major source, and (somewhat ironically) ranked in “1001 Albums You Have To Hear Before You Die,” Funeral is THE debut album of the 21st century.

Unlike anything before them, Arcade Fire have come to be known for their ultra-extravagant style that is so very their own. The esprit de corps this band displays is infectious and invigorating, bringing us out of our mundane suburban lives, only to deliver us the stories of neighborhoods we never grew up in, like an Aesop fable, wherein the lessons learned are about the entire experience of life This is the aperçu album by Arcade Fire.

Listen to: “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)”