You've heard the rumblings from the commonwealth, you've more than likely downloaded the record already (naughty bleeders) and you're in a state of anxious excitement like me. Maybe you've got friends in Canada who've seen them already; you've certainly read about them - probably argued the toss about them - on discussion boards the worldwide-interweb over. If you're one of the lucky ones, you'll have a ticket for their easily sold-out London show in March.
Arcade Fire as an event is imminent and, clearly, it's time to stop pussyfooting around. They could do without the responsibility, I'm sure - but I for one am pinning a lot of hopes and dreams on our cousins with the shared queen. I demand a lot from my music and I expect Arcade Fire to change my life. By summer 2005, in fact, I expect likely lads singing about skag and stupidity to be a figment of embarrassing memory.
That's not too tall an order. Arcade Fire's debut album cuts an astonishing dash. Vast, landscape-levelling sounds pulsate from its all-knowing brain. Precision-positioned violins scream blue murder over a soothing guitar, piano and vocal bedrock to produce a sound that is at once highly familiar (Bunnymen, New Order, Bowie, Suicide, Talking Heads, British Sea Power, blah blah blah) yet also utterly surprising, exciting and original. Chants and associated eerie oriental vocal antics, in both English and French, give this wonderful record a plausibly religious, possibly shamanic feel. The stuff of magic.
Onto this rich canvas are painted curious little ideas and images, of which the 'Neighborhood' four-part segment (oh yes, you can throw the traditional track one, track two format out of the window right now) is the most pronounced. These tales of family ties, family loss, deep memory, time-travel, catastrophe, astral flight and the 'escape' gene will shatter your heart one second; swell it with bravery and pride the next.
What an imagination! Chief fire officer Win Butler's grown-up but childlike tales are weird, dreamlike exercises that have no peer in modern music. A snowstorm engulfs the town and memories fade through eons to zilch in 'Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)', a vampiric brother seeks a brave new life by destroying family photos while his tears are collected in a cup during 'Neighborhood 2 (Laika)'. Icicles grow over the hands and eyes of parents in 'Neighborhood 3 (Power Cut)' and the planet is plunged into desperate darkness.
Then there's 'Wake Up', a wavering call for action to children, powered by a tambourine-led beat. It covers the passing of the age, the betrayal of memory and the disastrous pursuit of man. "We're just a million little gods causing rainstorms," shrieks Win. "Turning every good thing to rust."
The record officially ends with sadness and hope, memory and loss, bravery and passion - all combined for listening pleasure in the wonderfully haunting 'In The Backseat'. Life is a journey, friends, and we're all still learning to drive.
Except, it doesn't really end there, you know. The last track, I find, is one of my own making. It's not on the CD - it begins moments after the plastic has stopped spinning around. It's a moment of blessed silence, and you're going to need it if the power and majesty of this thing is to sink in sufficiently. The last 'track', then, is your own heart, your own breath and your own brain ticking, clicking and seething away.
What an album.