Nearing the end of a series on my top ten albums of that decade that recently ended. Two more after this. But first…
Returning cast members:
- Steven C – got me in to Fugazi and ukuleles.
- Peter S – played drums with me for my first gig.
- David H – lent me an acoustic guitar that time.
One day in late 2004, Dave, Steven and I headed out to Peter’s gaff for an afternoon. Though not entirely rare occurrences, trips out to Peter’s were always a bit special. While we all lived in Bray, his house was in Newcastle. Not a world away – only about 15km, but enough to classify a venture out there as kind of a “trip”. Peter would undoubtedly disagree, as he commuted from Newcastle to Bray every day when we were in school together. Maybe it’s that we were heading in the opposite direction of Dublin that made it feel more trip-like…
Also, unlike our anonymous residences in mundane housing estates (I think Dave H’s and my houses, though in different estates, are actually identical buildings), Peter lived in a big, old house on a farm. And there were always freshly-baked scones and cakes and other delights in the kitchen. And at some point he got a full-size snooker table. And, obviously, Peter’s great company regardless. In short: good times were had!
Usually, the primary motivation for trips out to Peter’s was music. Having a drum kit and a lack of immediate neighbours, it was an ideal venue for practising. As the years went on, jam sessions remained our cited reason for heading out to Newcastle, but really it was just an excuse to hang out. Not that we really needed one. But we still brought our guitars and amps. And we still had a go at a few songs each time. Usually the same songs every time…
Music was at the forefront of these get-togethers in another way, too. We would often use the opportunity to play each other new CDs we’d picked up, new bands we’d discovered, or old bands we’d uncovered.
This particular day was the day Steven unleashed Arcade Fire on us.
Except… it wasn’t actually when we were in Peter’s house. I distinctly remember us having said goodbye to Peter and being on our way back to Bray, in Dave’s car. Steven was raving about this Canada-based band he’d heard/read about and had ordered their debut album from their website, because it hadn’t even been released on this side of the Atlantic yet (…that’s right, Steven heard Arcade Fire before you!).
He put the CD in the player and put on track 2, ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)’:
As with many of the new things Steven plays me, I was instantly, automatically dismissive. I decried the song’s use of the accordion – the most obnoxious instrument in the universe. This reaction was mostly a joke, of course – although I do genuinely hate accordions.
My memories of how Arcade Fire and I made peace are more blurry. I did buy a physical copy of Funeral, when it eventually arrived on our shores in February or March the following year, but this was long after I’d started listening repeatedly to my MP3 copy of the album. I’m 80-90% sure that I hadn’t downloaded that copy, but had ripped Steven’s CD. I don’t remember when I got that off of him (or when he insisted I give it a proper listen). It could have been on that very day we’d gone to Peter’s. But it’s more likely that Dave, who had responded enthusiastically to it – as he does most things, claimed borrowing rights first.
Either way, my winter of 2004/2005 was warmed by a certain Fire.
Would my very first appraisal have been different, had Steven first played the first song on the album? I somehow doubt it, as ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ was a slow burner for me. Heck, it’s possible that he did actually play it – and I just didn’t pay attention. Not a slow burner in that it took my ages to go from disliking to liking it. I did liked it almost straight away. It just wasn’t a knock-out blow. It grew on me more and more over time, though, to the point where I absolutely loved it. In fact, in the years that have followed, my love for it has continued to grow even more. It could now even be a strong contender for my pick of the entire album:
But, yes, it wasn’t an instantaneous love. Much unlike the album’s fourth track – the third of the ‘Neighborhood’ suite that dominates the first half of the album. I don’t know if it was on the very first listen, but ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’, was definitely the song that made me sit up and listen. It’s beast of a song – loud, urgent, passionate:
This instant love would soon be matched and surpassed by the album’s other main high-energy track, the penultimate number, ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. Even listening to it now for the zillionth time, it’s irresistibly rousing. The kick drum pounds amidst the noises lingering from the previous track. The bass drops in and lays a simple, steady foundation. And after a couple of bars there’s a snap of the snare drum and the piano comes in. That moment never fails to send shivers down my spine. And it’s only the beginning. The song goes on to take over world:
Funeral has quite a few of those special moments: when Win cries “the pains of love” in ‘Crown of Love’, the climax of ‘In the Backseat’, the point at exactly 3:44 in ‘Tunnels’, where the slow, consistent build bursts out into the open… I could go on.
One song that many people connected with, but I had to be all snobby and contrary about, was ‘Wake Up’:
Of course, it’s a very good song. I’m not going to even try and deny that. And I’m not going to refrain from singing along with everyone when it’s played at party – or at an Arcade Fire gig, as it was as the last song of the night when I eventually saw them on their tour for The Suburbs. BUT, it has to the most overrated song on the album. Possibly their most overrated song on any album. The wordless chorus may be anthemic, but it’s just a bit too easy. And the whole “let’s-change-it-up-for-the-end” trick was already done twice (and to greater effect each time) on ‘Une Année Sans Lumière’ and on ‘Crown of Love’, the song which immediately precedes it.
It’s still good. I don’t skip it or anything. If anything it makes me all the more excited when ‘Haïti’ kicks in! (And that excitement probably has more to do with the building anticipation for ‘Rebellion’…).
But I’m just nitpicking. The album as a whole is still a colossal piece of recorded music. I definitely came to realize this.
Part of the reason I did, interestingly enough, was through seeing clips of the band’s live shows, on TV and online. It was impossible not to get wrapped up in the energy of their performances. Live renditions of ‘Neighborhood #2’ were especially engaging, even if it did still have the accordion. Richard Reed Parry and Will Butler would go completely apeshit on stage (and sometimes off), hitting everything they could find, even each other, with drumsticks.
Their performances also often featured one of my most favourite things to see in a live show – members who don’t have singing parts and don’t have microphones in front of them, singing along with gusto anyway. I love it!
The absolute best, though, was when they paired those two high-energy highlights, ‘Power Out’ and ‘Rebellion’, with a noisy maelstrom of a segue in between. They’ve done it so many times since, it’s never a surprise. But the effect is phenomenal. I said the latter’s intro sounded fantastic coming out of the swirling coda of ‘Haïti’, but it’s another universe of excellence when it bounds out of the cacophony that explodes out of the end of ‘Power Out’. They ended their main set with this combo when I saw them in Dublin and it was incredible: