Lighting the fire in listeners' hearts

In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford rediscovers the album.

To love music is to be forever in search of a legal high. Material that elicits not only an intellectual response but also a tangible wave of euphoria or heartache is the stuff of which the most treasured items in our collections are made.

The good stuff - the really good stuff - is in short supply, and so we wade through acres of mediocre releases, snipping off the more colourful buds here and there but wearing our dissatisfaction as a hair shirt. Funeral, by Arcade Fire, gave a jonesing indie-rock audience an almost universal dose of what it was looking for.

The Canadian band's 2004 debut full-length release was that rarest of things: a fresh sounding, authentic exploration of the human life cycle that lived up to a buzz that was generated more by word of mouth than by media hype.

Its roots were in the members' personal experiences of loss and grief but its songs embraced the wider challenge we all face in gaining perspective on the significance of our lives to our lovers, friends, families and communities.

A broad musical brush plays its part in the album's honest representation of these whirling emotions. Some sections thunder along on an exhilarating storm of guitars, drums, strings and horns while others offer respite, reflecting our inability to maintain unendingly a state of anger, hope or joy.

Xylophone, harp and various keyboards and synths further broaden a palette that is surprisingly rich for a band on its first outing in the longer form.

Main vocalist Wyn Butler carries the balance of the credit for the album's success, keeping in stride on this journey through turmoil, wonder and acceptance, his tremulous pipes blasting boldly one moment and falling away to almost nothing the next.

It is his task to pitch the work as a spirited celebration of life's uncertainties and sorrows, and his triumph lies in a healthy measure of gooseflesh-raising moments.

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