Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, turns 10 today (Sept. 14). It’s still something special. Here’s what I wrote about the record when I named it my top album of the 2000s.
In some ways, I suppose that’s an obvious question: we are talking about one of the most beloved records of the decade by any measure, a tour-de-force phenomenon that’s undeniable even if it wasn’t your personal cup of tea. But even as someone whose shameless activism for this record and this band has been well documented, this wasn’t easy. As long as I’ve been thinking about this list – a good year or two, at the very least – my top three slots have been reserved for these top three records; nothing else was really ever in contention. But how to order these records, each near and dear to me, was probably more agonizing than these sorts of silly lists should ever be.
At one point, Kid A was in the top spot, but I struggled with whether it truly spoke to the decade or if it was an outlier – the last great event album (spoiler alert from 2014: it wasn’t), one final brilliant relic of an era forever changed by the digital age. At one point, it was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its shattered Americana at number one, but I wondered it if was an artifact made modern through deconstruction instead of something truly modern. However, how “modern” really is Funeral – a record that owes great debts to its all-too-obvious influences, from David Bowie and U2 to the Talking Heads?
But I’m not sure if Funeral could have happened in any other decade. It’s a record whose success spoke better than any other to the turning of the tides, the collapse of the traditional industry paradigm giving way to the exciting and terrifying post-digital world. Funeral’s glorious choruses and fist-pounding passions demanded more than just devotion: they demanded action. The moment the final notes of “In the Backseat” faded out for the first time, I started telling people about this amazing new band, and it’s clear I wasn’t alone in that reaction. It was as if we all realized, at the same time, that the only way this record was going to get heard is if we shared the word: writing on websites, ranting on blogs, shouting across dinner tables, cranked loud at parties, illegally spreading the songs like viruses across file-sharing networks.
I don’t come from a religious background, so Funeral may have been the first time I truly understood evangelical movements. As the weeks and months went by, I never passed up the opportunity to tell anyone and everyone about Funeral. I have friends who can vividly recall exact conversations where I – equal parts impassioned and intoxicated – ranted and raved about this new record that they had to drop everything and download. It had nothing to do with increasing the record’s sales or the band’s following. I simply wanted everyone I cared about to feel the way I did when I listened to the record. And if I didn’t give them that opportunity, who would?
We may be the last generation to remember the music world as it was before the great collapse; now we spend our days trying to organize the deluge left behind. The television spits static. The radio buzzes with a tragic hiss. The windows of the record store are boarded up, spray paint written on the door. “The power’s out in the heart of man / take it from your heart, put it in your hand.”
We are all evangelists now. And Funeral is our first great hymn.
Here’s a close-up look at a few of the VHS covers I created for the Last Exit To Springfield show at The Dart Gallery. Tomorrow is the last day to check out the show, so see it if you can—there are all kinds of amazing pieces by some of the most talented creative folks in the city!
Nitsuh Abebe on Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses (published on Pitchfork, 2006)
I wanted to re-blog this again to point something out: if you’re starting out writing music criticism, study this. This is what you should be doing. Think about how music works, how it’s being received and what it means to people. This passage says a great deal about the music of Depeche Mode by having insight into how it functioned for their fans. It says nothing about what Martin Gore was going through when he wrote these songs; it doesn’t try to dissect the lyrics and de-code them, it doesn’t list what synths were used. It gets inside the music and figures out what it does, which is very hard but ultimately very rewarding. Because getting at that requires a great deal of empathy—you need to be able to stand in the shoes of the people who heard this music.(via markrichardson)