Review #500: Funeral, Arcade Fire

Karla Clifton
3 min readDec 29, 2023

#500: Funeral, Arcade Fire

Wow. And here we are. Before we start celebrating, let’s review Arcade Fire.

I’m pretty familiar with Arcade Fire because I fell in love with their record The Suburbs in high school. In fact, I discovered that record because it was ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010. Always full circle.

Arcade Fire is made up of an extended family: there’s frontman Win Butler, his brother Will, and his wife Régine Chassagne. It’s hard to say exactly what instruments they all play, because Arcade Fire is known for playing every instrument in existence. See their great SNL skit where they get made fun of for using “old-timey instruments.”

This was their official debut, named for the number of recent familial deaths that band members had experienced, including the Butlers’ grandfather and Chassagne’s grandmother. Family is one of the themes that this concept album circles around. Chassagne isn’t the lead singer (that’s her husband’s deal) but the two songs she sings lead on here are both about family. The ballad “Haiti” is about her homeland, a defiant acoustic that traces an optimistic silver lining around her family’s hardships. “In the Backseat” made me a little misty: her high, trembling voice regretfully sings about being forced into the driver’s seat after the death of a parent. She sounds like a fairy. Meanwhile, “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka),” sung by Win, details a difficult relationship between a wanderlusty brother and father — and might be a reference to Chris McCandless. With an accordion, no less.

The other theme is adolescence versus adulthood. “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” contrasts adult grief with adolescent love: parents crying in their bedroom while their child sneaks out a bedroom window. “Crown of Love” is the same idea, though it deals with the pain of unrequited love. See also “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles).”

As I learned from The Suburbs, one of Arcade Fire’s favorite tricks is to write two songs about the same thing. “Une année sans lumière,” French for A Year Without Light (they were based in Montréal so it’s not pretentious) is a quiet preamble to “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” More literally, it’s a calm before the storm, as both songs were inspired by a 1998 ice storm that left Montréal without power for a week. The first song is mostly in French, lending it a kind of mysterious, twilighty air; the second song, on the other hand, is full of childlike joy at the strange storm: Kids are swinging from the power lines/ Nobody’s home, so nobody minds.

There were two hits from this record. “Wake Up” goes the hardest of any songs on the record, all power chord guitar and full-throated yelling, as Win Butler encourages you to cry. Then there’s “Rebellion (Lies),” which is the one song off this album I knew beforehand and still wound up being my favorite. These two are kind of a pair, as well: through some dramatic sonic choices and poetry, Arcade Fire is encouraging us to see the world as a child would, to be the same at night as we are in the morning, to cry and stay up all night and play the keytar. Fine, I cried.

Kind of a bummer of an addendum to this one: Win Butler was accused of sexual misconduct late last year by five different people. But he and Chassagne are still married, and she in fact wrote a statement of support for Butler. No comment on this, except that we’ll apparently be having to separate the art from the artist until the end of time.

And that’s it. We really did it, you guys. 500 albums, and I reviewed ALL of them. And you read them, for some reason! HAPPY NEW YEAR’S, BABY.

Review #499: Ask Rufus, Rufus & Chaka Khan

Outro: Karla Clifton’s Fond Farewell