It's not typical for a band to experience three funerals and a wedding during the making of an album, but then this extraordinary work is anything but typical. In the midst of recording sessions for 'Funeral', two members of The Arcade Fire got married to each other while three relatives of band members passed away.
From these profound upheavals in the group's lives came this debut, which is itself equally profound both lyrically and musically. Based around the concept of neighbourhoods, it makes an epic sweep across themes of love, life and death with an exceptionally accomplished array of melody and instrumentation.
The group are well qualified to meditate on the notion of community in the modern world, having spent their childhoods apart in Texas and Ontario before settling in Montreal in their adolescence. Their bilingual lyrics tell emotional, beautiful stories of love, loss, longing, loneliness, anguish and regret that take the listener on a cathartic dance between birth and death.
Shifting speeds in the passage of time make an intertwining theme that runs across the songs also, leading to inspired lines like "my eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids, but my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids". While plunging us into their deepest feelings of sadness, many of the songs, 'Wake Up' in particular, round off on an upbeat note that is nothing sort of spiritual.
Musically, 'Funeral' is no less incredible. 'Neigborhood #1', 'Neighborhood #2' and 'Une année sans lumière' comprise the strongest opening three songs to a record since Mercury Rev blew us away with 'Holes', 'Tonite It Shows' and 'Endlessly' on 1998's 'Deserter's Songs'. It also features what is one of the most beautiful love songs in years in 'Crown of Love'.
Incorporating guitars, piano, organs, xylophones, a string section and even a Gallic flavour of accordion, the first three tracks and indeed the whole record are imbued with a flair and originality that rock has not seen since perhaps even the late 1960s and early 1970s when The Velvet Underground pioneered the fusion of rock with art.
In the end, it's likely that most people will run a mile from this record as they do from anything with even a whiff of the phrases 'art rock' or 'concept album'. If you aren't one of these people, go out and buy this absolute triumph right now – forget album of the year, 'Funeral' is the record of this decade.
Tracklisting: Neighborhood #1 – Neighborhood #2 – Neighborhood #3 – Une Année Sans Lumière – Neighborhood #4 – Crown of Love – Wake Up – Haiti – Rebellion – In the Backseat