Music Reviews

Arcade Fire Funeral

(Merge) Rating - 9/10

Arnold Schoenberg, the great pioneer of the classical avant garde, once said that there was still plenty of great music left to be written in C major. I think we can also conclude that there's still plenty of inspiration left to be milked from the traditional rock form; two guitars, bass, drums, a pounding beat and a baroque keyboard flourish now and again. It must be true since Arcade Fire just proved it. Their new album, Funeral, is so fresh and exciting it's hard to believe they are operating in an old and potentially stale form. Not only are the songs uniformly excellent, they also show a mastery of the art of controlled dynamics, of tension and release, that most young bands ignore to pursue the catharsis of sustained intensity. But as any woman will tell you, intensity is great, young chap, but you've got to build up to it. Arcade Fire sticks to the basics and keeps it simple. There is not a wasted or superfluous moment on this record. At over 48 minutes that's, uh, not too shabby.

The album starts out on a high note with Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), a tale of childhood escape and liberation which turns out to be a recurring motif on Funeral. A twinkling, heavily reverbed piano, quickly joined by a thumping bass drum heartbeat, builds to a rapturous full band workout with Win Butler wailing about forgetting the "names we used to know". This highlight is followed quickly by four more. Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) channels the Edge's stuttering guitar, while Une Annee Sans Lumiere transitions to a herky-jerky epilogue; a device they use in several songs to great effect. Just when this level of consistent excellence seems like it's going to get boring, abruptly, the album hits an astounding peak.

A chugging guitar rallies the awakening troops. A resolute beat joins in and soon the armies are chanting along in unison, fists raised high. "Children, wake up" he sings, half command, half plea. The streets fill up with the forgotten, demanding justice. Who could resist this onslaught? This was the music missing from the RNC protest this summer in New York. If they had played it up and down Seventh Avenue that day, its not likely Madison Square Garden would still be standing, and we'd probably all be better off. Then, as the song shifts into its celebratory ending, the protestors would join hands and dance in a circle, rejoicing at the dawn of the new Enlightenment, shouting all at once "you better look out below!"

The rest of the album is great too.