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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Creature Comfort" by Arcade Fire mean?

What does "Creature Comfort" by Arcade Fire mean?

"Creature Comfort" Lyrics Meaning

I've never really listened to Arcade Fire until recently, and I still hadn't explained any song but "I Give You the Power" until now, but I've got an old work associate who every time I see him asks if I'm going to start explaining Arcade Fire. And I honestly wasn't enthused about the idea. They aren't as popular as the bands I usually review, and I didn't know what to make of them.

Well, I saw that "Creature Comfort" had come out this weekend, and I decided it was time to give them another chance. (I wasn't a fan of "I Give You the Power"--it was preachy, political, and boring.) Well, I'm glad to say that I did. I love the alt-indy/pop sound of "Creature Comfort." Arcade Fire doesn't sound like a typical rock act. They've got a unique sound that's somewhere between Passion Pit and a space age Panic! at the Disco or a M83. 

"God, make me famous / If you can't just make it painless"

The lyrics of "Creature Comfort" are about suicide and depression, but it's not about the band's feelings. It's about their fans. Arcade Fire gets in the heads of two different crowds of listeners--boys and girls--and describes some of those fans' more depressing thoughts and actions, we assume, for the purpose of helping these listeners to feel understood and maybe to give them a different perspective on their own actions.

Verse 1

Some boys hate themselves
Spend their lives resenting their fathers
Some girls hate their bodies
Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback

Win Butler begins "Creature Comfort" by singing about discontented individuals: "Some boys hate themselves" and part of this hate comes from "resenting their fathers." He also mentions girls who "hate their bodies" as they "[s]tand in the mirror and wait for the feedback." The feedback comes from their own minds as they criticize themselves more than anyone else would.

Pre-Chorus

Saying
God, make me famous
If you can't just make it painless
Just make it painless

In the next stanza, Butler tells us that even while these kids seem to have these unfortunate problems, a more serious problem lies below the surfaces of their psyches. Apparently, they are also considering suicide. They are "[s]aying / 'God, make me famous.'" When they kill themselves, they want to make it on the news and for others to at least hear about them. But even if that can't happen, they ask God to at least "make it painless." The pain of living feels greater to them than the pain of killing themselves.

Verse 2

Assisted suicide
She dreams about dying all the time
She told me she came so close
Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record

Rather than going straight into the chorus, Arcade Fire prioritizes story-telling and heads back to a verse for further clarification before we here the themes laid out in the chorus. He tells us that a fan he met "dreams about dying all the time," maybe "assisted suicide" in particular. One time "she came so close" and went so far as to "[fill] up the bathtub" perhaps as she was preparing to electrocute herself. But she is a big Arcade Fire fan, and their first album (which included themes of loss) is named Funeral, so she decided it was the appropriate backdrop to what she was doing. 

Chorus

It goes on and on, I don't know what I want
On and on, I don't know if I want it (X6)

The chorus could be from the perspective of Win Butler or it could be the imagined perspective of the fans who are considering suicide. Either way life is difficult, and the narrator watches it go "on and on," and sings, "I don't know what I want" as life keeps giving such depressing news or situations. If it's Win Butler singing, he's probably overladen with the weight of caring for these fans, and if it's the fans' perspective, they truly don't know what they want and keep having to deal with a steady stream of difficult thoughts and situations.

Verse 3

Some girls hate themselves
Hide under the covers with sleeping pills and
Some girls cut themselves
Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback
Some boys get too much, too much love, too much touch
Some boys starve themselves
Stand in the mirror and wait for the feedback

Butler goes back for more description of fans struggling with their lives and images. He tells us that "[s]ome girls hate themselves" and that they "[h]ide under the covers with sleeping pills and / Some girls cut themselves." These girls turn to drug overdoses or self-harm to escape lives that they truly hate.

And then Régine Chassagne, Win Butler's wife, sings about "boys [who] get too much . . . love [and] touch." She doesn't make clear what this means, but she could be referring to "players" who sleep around or to guys who seems to have it all together on the outside but who "starve themselves" and [s]tand in the mirror and wait for" other people's opinions and assessments just like the girls do. 

Bridge 1

Creature comfort makes it painless
Bury me penniless and nameless
Born in a diamond mine
It's all around you, but you can't see it
Born in a diamond mine
It's all around you but you can't touch it

While Butler doesn't specifically refer to any one "creature comfort," he tells us that it "makes it painless," which we assume refers to the suicide. Therefore, the creature comforts are either actual creature comforts (like food, warmth, or any physical comfort), or they are the suicide itself, a comfort from the pain of living for these individuals. 

That suicide will leave the narrator buried "penniless and nameless" even though he was "[b]orn in a diamond mine." They have great wealth and opportunity in their lives: "It's all around you, but you can't see it." They are blinded by the thoughts that haunt them, and so they risk losing their lives at their own hands, using creatures comforts to mask the pain, when they could have the abundance all around them.

Bridge 2

It's not painless
She was a friend of mine, a friend of mine
And we're not nameless, oh

The second bridge contains a very important message and is likely the thematic turning point of the album. Butler goes from describing the problem to explaining the problem he has with the problem. He negates what the kids said about it being "painless" and exclaims that "[s]he was a friend of mine / And we're not nameless." He and others who are friends or families of these kids are the ones who will experience the pain and heartache even if these kids don't necessarily feel anything. He wants them to reconsider for this reason.

Verse 4

We're the bones under your feet
The white lie of American prosperity
We wanna dance but we can't feel the beat
I'm a liar, don't doubt my sincerity

Verse 4 seems to be from the perspective of those who feel depressed and who Win Butler reveals he is part of. He explains that those like him "are the bones under your feet"--the casualties of war that people without these problems might find easy to ignore. They have found the "white lie of American prosperity," and we assume that lie is that money doesn't bring happiness. Depression can still attack.

They "wanna dance, but we can't feel the beat," and this line explains that though they see happiness and want to take part in it, their mental states keep them from feeling like they can fully embrace it or feel it sincerely. Win Butler himself, though, tells us that he's "a liar" but that we shouldn't "doubt my sincerity." He may not be dancing, and he acknowledges that he's been deceptive, but he feels what he feels and doesn't want us to think he or anyone else is faking these feelings.

Deeper Meaning of "Creature Comforts": "bones under your feet"

What Arcade Fire lacks in subtlety, they make up for in caring for their audience. I think it's powerful when a band wants to discuss things like and especially when that means admitting that you struggle with the exact same thing as Win Butler does in "Creature Comfort." It's a powerful technique for writing a song (as evinced by Twenty One Pilots doing it in almost every song), and it's a good way to make something artful. Truth is one of Thomas Aquinas three criteria for assessing beauty: truth, beauty, and goodness. And, of course, helping others and emphasizing with them falls under the category of goodness, so I have a feeling that Aquinas would call "Creature Comforts" artful, and I happen to agree. But beyond just the empathy, I love the way that Butler and Arcade Fire call out the logical inconsistency of these people's desire for suicide. Sure, there's the chance it'd be painless for those who kill themselves, but what would it do to those they left behind? I think this presents a strong balance between empathy and guidance (even if it doesn't present longterm solutions). 

Plus, the music is entrancing and interesting. It feels like something from the early 2010's, and I didn't know that there were many bands (besides Passion Pit) still making these kinds of sounds. In any case, "Creature Comforts" is a unique, beautiful song with a powerful message of empathy. 

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