Disassociating Will Butler with Arcade Fire is the first step to setting expectations for his solo record Policy, a killer, energetic retro rock and roll treat. Policy sets Butler apart from that crowd in the best way, showing off his crystal clear voice and dark songwriting chops.
An alternative mix of instrumentals that set all kinds of moods make each song on Policy sound completely different. There are quiet lullabies like the regal “Sing to Me”, ‘80s synth and percussion romps like “Anna”, and up-tempo garage rock like “What I Want”, all sharing just one quality: Butler’s melancholy Morrissey-esque wail and effortless oddness. It’s what compels us to keep listening, and what makes us hang on his every menacing note.
Policy has all of the qualities that made us fall for Arcade Fire when they first came on the scene. It’s mercurial and eclectic, but also polished. It’s not overwrought and cold like 2013’s Reflektor. It’s worth speculating that perhaps Butler’s voice got a little lost on that record, and Policy is what he’s been holding inside. Being a part of a 6-member band (that has, in many ways, become the wacky Win and Régine show) could likely become an isolating experience, and Policy makes Butler a powerful contender for the spotlight.
Though each song on Policy is rich and layered, nothing ever gets swallowed by over-the-top production. Butler is a big personality, but never blustery or inflated. The simple acoustic guitars on “Finish What I Started” and “Son of God” add an Oberst-like earthiness, occasionally veering into a kind of alternative folk rock. The harmonies on “Son of God” are chanted and imperfect, almost gospel-ish, and when mixed with a sudden burst of electric guitar, elevated and interesting. This song is a standout on Policy, with its catchy-as-hell chorus and sunny tone.
“Witness” follows suit, with a lovely vintage patina. Soulful and vibrant, “Witness” becomes the anthem with heavy rotation potential on Policy. It’s colossal and classic, but so fun and perfect for dancing. When the giddy saxophone pops up in the home stretch, you’ll be completely absorbed, and too busy jumping up and down to realize what just hit you.
Butler has plenty to say, and he takes full advantage on Policy, hitting every sweet spot – dark and moody, colorful and eccentric, ethereal and bright. It’s a diverse record that leaves no corner unexplored. And even when he goes the synth-pop route, as with “Anna”, it still maintains its freshness. It’s a subtle electronica that still fits snugly with the raucous rock and roll that takes up the most space on Policy.
Rock and roll appears to be Butler’s forte, though, and he more than proves that with the loud “Take My Side” and “What I Want”. Both harken back to the brilliance of Neon Bible. They’re urgent and breathless, quirky and strange, the way the best Arcade Fire songs were. And even though they might be one of the most popular bands in the world, Will Butler’s got the most intriguing voice of all.