Being in one of the world’s biggest and most celebrated Indie bands does have its pros, for example if you’re one of the more prominent members of the band and you decide to release a solo album you’re already going to have a fanbase ready. The con to that however, is that fanbase is going to be expecting something similar to what they love from the band you’re from. What a lot of people do is completely ditch the fanbase to pursue for whatever the hell they want to do. There is of course a lot more of a safe version, which involves taking elements of what people love about the band’s last record and applying it to your own solo work.
Will Butler is the brother of Arcade Fire’s frontman Win Butler and also a member of the band; he is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist and he’s decided to go down the latter of the two paths. Arcade Fire’s last album ‘Reflektor’ had some of their most bonkers moments yet as they embraced a more electronic side of music. In many ways Will has adopted elements of this to his own – much more simple – solo album. ‘Policy’ is the work of a man who wants to capture some of the wackiness from his previous work onto different platforms of music. More specifically, he wants to throw them onto a much more simple rock album. It’s got simple foundations right down to the fact that all the songs are short as is the album as a whole.
From the opening song the simpleness of it all is clear – ‘Take My Side’ sounds like a homage to the music he loves as he sings in a remarkably similar way to John Lennon over some scrappy guitars. Elsewhere he channels his inner balladry with some beautiful piano pieces like ‘Sing To Me’ and ‘Finish What I Started’ which show why Will was such a brilliant choice when he sound-tracked ‘Her’ in 2013. It’s a shame that because these cuts are less like the band he came from, he all but neglects them in terms of length. It would be thrilling to hear a few more of the cuts where he’s just jamming with some fantastic anthemic choruses and Gospel backing singers like on the track ‘Son Of God’.
This isn’t to say he should limit himself, as some of the moments on here where he channels the odd side of Arcade Fire into his own style brilliantly. The second song ‘Anna’ trades the scrappiness of guitars for eccentric vocals, fantastic melodies and synthesisers. But these moments don’t always pay off and he sometimes sounds like he’s channelling his inner Arcade Fire a bit too much like the track ‘Something’s Coming’ which is almost in the same vein as ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ off of ‘Reflektor’ – which was one of the more dodgy moments on that record. He really lets his guard down on the vocal melodies on this track (an aspect he succeeds in on the rest of the album) and allows the instrumentation to swallow it whole. Which would be okay if the instrumentation was a bit more interesting. ‘What I Want’ is closer to the more grand side of Arcade Fire with its steady, rolling drumbeat and twisted synths over the top of some more Gospel singing. Yet, it feels slightly contrived especially with the lyrics that are being over-the-top in trying to sound peculiar.
Will Butler is a very good songwriter and this is a good collection of songs. Not an amazing set of songs or anything at all ground-breaking. He never quite has the ambition for these to be anything more than just ‘good’ songs. And that’s all it feels like this record is, a slight foot in the door to see if he can do it on his own. He’s succeeded and proved his worth as a songwriter, but now it’s time for him to spread those wings.
Best Tracks: Anna, Son Of God, Take My Side