Funeral remains a landmark record, brought into the world kicking, screaming and covered in blood, sweat and tears fifteen years ago.
Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” He published his book in 2000, four years ahead of what many would consider as the tipping point in contemporary music in the first decade of the twenty-first century: Arcade Fire’s Funeral.
Even before its release on September 14, 2004, Funeral was attracting positive reviews and praise like a magnet. As if to further cement the record’s moment in the zeitgeist — ensuring every printed mention of Funeral from that point forward referenced their name — Pitchfork bestowed an impossible-to-dismiss 9.7 out of 10 rating on the album. That in and of itself guaranteed every hipster from Hoboken to Honolulu was hitting the peer-to-peer networks and searching Funeral out.
That’s ultimately where the power of Funeral (and my abiding affection for it) lies. Arcade Fire’s first long-player album marked the first time I (and many others) was swept up in the frenzy of reading about and finding a new record online, as opposed to waiting for the newest edition of my monthly printed music magazines to arrive. The time between hearing about Funeral and actually hearing about it was measured in seconds and minutes, not days and weeks. It wasn’t the first album I ever (illegally) downloaded, but it was the first digital record I fell in love with, and that paradigm shift was not lost on me.
Here I was, the guy who used to make regular trips to a series of record stores in order to buy a physical product — who cherished and cared for his record collection like it was a branch of the Library of Congress — and I was in love with, essentially, a series of computer files. From Funeral on, my record collection hit the tipping point where the digital part of the collection started outnumbering its physical counterpart.
What those who also cherish Funeral remain drawn to are its vulnerability and emotional soul. It’s rightly described as “apocalyptic” in tone thanks to the allusion to tunnels beneath city streets, massive power failures and society in chaos (burning seniors as witches in “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)”). Thankfully lacking in Arcade Fire’s music at the time was the staid formula indie-rock was beset with throughout the first half of the 2000s. Funeral breaks the pattern; it’s a symphonic indie-rock chameleon. From the epic and sweeping opening movement of “Wake Up” to its 60s-Motown influenced conclusion, you’re sure a song is never going to end up in the same place where it began. Many would argue that “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” is the album’s emotional centre, but “Wake Up” is its mission statement and defining moment: “If the children don’t grow up/our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up/We’re just a million little god’s causin’ rainstorms turnin’ every good thing to rust/I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”
From Funeral on, the public’s expectations would weigh heavily on Arcade Fire’s subsequent albums if not on the shoulders of the band itself. Remaining critical darlings up until they weren’t, each new Arcade Fire album bore a loose connection to what the band laid down with Funeral, but would never capture the same inherent sense of discovery and joy at finding the Next Greatest Band In The World®. You only get to birth your debut record once, and for all the derision and second-guessing around their subsequent releases, Funeral is a landmark record, brought into the world, kicking, screaming and covered in blood, sweat and tears. Like a newborn babe exposed to the harshness of a cruel world, it wailed and demanded one thing and one thing only: love. Funeral got it back in spades.