Learning to Like…Funeral – The Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire - Funeral CoverFuneral has been sitting on my iPod now for over two weeks. I’ve been treating it like a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, trying to find every excuse possible not to listen to it again.

And it seems about as accessible as Ulysses.

I actually find a lot of similarities to the Decemberists: A talented poet for a lead singer who can’t sing but tries to be clever in his songwriting. Funeral‘s first four songs are titled “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” “Une Annee Sans Lumiere,” “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” and “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles).” Is this supposed to be a concept album?

We’re supposed to dig for the meanings behind these cryptic song titles. But glancing at “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” we get “Our older brother bit by a vampire / For a year we caught his tears in a cup / And now we’re going to make him drink it.”

Okay. All crystal clear now.

That leaves me with the music. (That’s fine; I was never much for lyrics anyway.) Here, Funeral almost had me. After grudgingly pressing play on my iPod and listening to the album over and over, something finally clicked.  The music finally reached me at some level. It’s complicated – lots of things going on, layered tracks that at times sound intriguing, but at other times seem stifling.

Then there’s Win Butler. The towering voice of the Arcade Fire sounds like the Talking Heads’ David Byrne at his worst. (His wife, Régine Chassagne, sings on a few tracks). Any beauty that may be present in the music is marred by the maddening tone of  Butler’s frantic screaming.

It was then that I realized that the reason something clicked earlier was that the songs simply became familiar, not likable. The Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes” is a familiar song, but I still don’t like it. There was very little joy, and for that matter, no sorrow in the music of Funeral. Like the Decemberists and Joy Division, I find myself on the outside looking in, knowing that some people are getting something out of the group while I’m not. Or perhaps the emperor has no clothes.

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