Arcade Fire has sold millions of records, won a couple of Grammys and toured around the world. Their fame is undeniable, yet Will Butler, the band’s jack-of-all-trades who rotates from keyboard to bass to percussion, has stayed mostly anonymous.
Most fans recognize him as the guy spasming around the stage as if he were hopped up on ecstasy, shouting and beating on drums. You’d expect his debut solo album, Policy, to be just like his chaotic performance style.
Upon a first listen, Policy might feel quick and hectic. Lasting only 28 minutes with only eight tracks, the record is still difficult to get through because of its chaotic mixture of genres.
In terms of style, Butler is characteristically all over the map, making for an interesting listen. He starts out with chord-heavy rock but finds himself on different ends of the spectrum with ballads and sing-a-long pop choruses. Classifying the album is nearly impossible, so the catch-all “indie” is the most appropriate label.
The most impressive and surprising part of Policy is Butler’s songwriting. Butler’s brother and frontman of Arcade Fire, Win Butler, and his wife Régine Chassagne get most of the creative credit for Arcade Fire’s music from the media, but Butler contributes heavily to both Arcade Fire’s albums and beyond.
The Academy nominated Butler along with composer Owen Pallet for an Oscar for their work on the score of Spike Jonze’s “Her.”
Butler’s previous works led me to expect the songs on Policy would sound similar to those of Arcade Fire. About ten seconds in, it’s obvious that’s not true.
“Take My Side” is a raw, guitar-heavy song that opens with a simple two-chord riff. Butler executes a garage-rock feel that might not be as extreme as The White Stripes or The Sonics, but it’s far from the style of Arcade Fire.
If Butler had recorded a garage rock record, the album would have been fairly straight-forward, but Butler steers away from that style with “Anna,” an electronic pop 80s-throwback song.
The song’s quirky vocals, synth line and touches of saxophone make it the artistic highlight of the album. The piano ballad “Finish What I Started” and the catchy “Son of God” are equally as memorable. Up to this point, every track feels fresh.
Butler falls prey to his own game, though, with the second half of the album offering repeat efforts at the styles from the first half, often with shaky results.
“What I Want” rocks nowhere close to “Take My Side,” and “Something’s Coming” isn’t nearly as fun as “Anna.” Butler’s execution is mediocre, serving as a reminder that this is Butler’s debut album. By the end of the album, his style feels a bit stale without the element of surprise it had in the beginning.
Maybe Will Butler isn’t destined for a solo career, but Policy proves that he deserves more than to dance in the background.