‘Funeral’ 10 years later: ‘Une Annee sans Lumiere’
Kelly McGarry | Tuesday, September 23, 2014
[Editors note: To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Arcade Fire’s debut album, “Funeral,” Scene is publishing 10 stories from 10 writers covering the 10 tracks on the album. You can read all of the “Funeral” articles here.]
My first time hearing “Une Annѐe sans Lumiére,” I didn’t even realize it was in French — probably because the music itself tells the majority of the story. Now, 10 years after its release, I have to admit this is my first time looking up a translation.
Looking back on 2004, I have a hard time describing it as something as bleak as “A Year without Light.” Granted I probably wasn’t listening to Arcade Fire or any other band that wasn’t played on Radio Disney. What this track seems to communicate to me is not so much darkness but more so ignorance.
As a whole, “Funeral” is a dark album, especially compared with other music that experienced similar success. In a year dominated by R&B from Usher, when music forgot about death, Arcade Fire shoved it in our faces with an explicit album title that let us know from the start that it would take us through tough themes.
In context, “Une Annѐe Sans Lumiére” is surprisingly uplifting. A soothing drumbeat consoles after the trauma of “Laika,” carrying us through lyrics that, to a non-French speaker, really could be saying anything you want them to. Thankfully, Win Butler calls our attention when he’s about to slip us a bit of information, beginning every English line “Hey!” but not interrupting the steady, comforting rhythm.
This is the romantic part of the tale when the narrator enjoys a love that would be forbidden if it weren’t for his lover’s disapproving father’s ignorance. After all the words have been sung, an aggressive crescendo insists that there is more to the story.
Being bilingual, the song contains an element of mystery, but also the expectation that it will all make sense once you learn the meaning of the words. Then the mystery is only amplified by the French lyrics. The word that most caught my attention was “oeillères,” which appears twice in the song. The word means blinders, like the kind put on horses so they can only see what is right in front of them. And now I realize that, not knowing French, I’ve had blinders of my own when it comes to this song.
With time, it seems that we’ve grown up with “Funeral.” It’s the kind of album whose impact festers with time, as its deep-cutting themes change significance with the blinders lifted in the 10 years following a year without light.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.