Will Butler simultaneously confuses and amazes with Policy
Review by Kirk Windus
RIYL: The Smiths, Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand
Recommended Tracks: Track 1- Take My Side, Track 2- Anna, Track 4- Son of god, Track 7- Sing To Me
The younger half of the Arcade Fire’s Butler clan has decided to dedicate his time off to making a name for himself.
Or at least that’s the sense you’d get from the action of someone like Will Butler releasing a record under his own name. An important member of a terribly important band, Will has been somewhat stuck in the spotlight of his older brother, Win.
Yet, Policy doesn’t sound at all like an urgent push to make a statement. It comes off as unfocused as an ADHD kid hopped up on Mountain Dew and Pixie Sticks. It runs through every genre from new age to Strokes-like pop-rock, even dabbling in blues rock and piano balladry. The lyrics don’t cry out with any purpose or theme. On “What I Want” he sings, “Now I’m not saying that we should rush this/ I’m not suggesting that we should start having kids/ but maybe we could think about getting a dog/ or a fish tank or a jar of squids/ or maybe just a chicken coop full of Alligators.” Such lyrical babblings leave you wondering if you’re supposed to laugh, shake your head in confusion or applaud him for his wit.
The best way to describe Policy is confusing. But here’s the thing: It works. A little like Arcade Fire, you might not know what exactly you’re listening to, but you’re bound to appreciate it. Butler’s not just a talented multi-instrumentalist. He’s a damn good songwriter. His lyrics may lack at times, but he has an incredible knack for writing melodies that capture the imagination and light up a song.
The album might as well be a journey through American music. The first track, “Take My Side” is a modern take on the old American blues form. The lead single “Anna” is a poppy new-wave track that Bowie would probably sing on in heartbeat. “Finish What I started” is a stripped down piano ballad that sounds like a vintage Morrissey song. He dabbles in folk-pop on the undeniably “Son of God,” which could find its way to big radio success. Butler channels his inner Strokes on “What I Want,” and turns to Beach Boys style jangly piano pop on the closer, “Witness.”
If any of the songs were released as singles they probably would have been successful. They stretch the boundaries of what it means to be pop— or what any genre means for that matter, and more than anything, they’re undeniably infectious.
The most intimate, self-assured moment, however, comes on “Sing to Me,” maybe the least radio friendly song on the album. Butler croons, “Oh, sing to me, sing to me/ Cause I’m so scared of what is waiting through the door/ Oh, sing to me, sing to me/ Cause I’m so scared of all the friends I had before/ Cause I’m lonely like I’ve never been before/ Cause I’m tired, but I don’t wanna talk no more.” And maybe that place is exactly where the album comes from. The lack of identity in terms of genre and song come from a personal loss of friendship, which in turn leads to loneliness and lack of personal identity.
Policy may not have the cohesion of a typical modern album. Butler may sound confused— lost at times— but there’s a human truth buried somewhere in that. When was the last time you knew exactly who you were and where you were going? Maybe Butler just managed to capture that one human truth we’re not so willing to confess.