Will Butler’s solo debut: no "Reflektor" of Arcade Fire

It’s all here: the fuzzy guitars, the get-up-and-dance drumbeats and the half-shouted vocals—all the elements of early-2000s Arcade Fire. Will Butler’s debut album Policy has critics and audiences reminiscing with nostalgic longing of Arcade Fire’s lost energy and fury. This says a lot about the Arcade Fire of The Suburbs and beyond. The shenanigans like the papier-mâché heads and fake stages that once marked live performances have been consistently lambasted for trading energetic and raw for calculated and precise.

The problem with these criticisms is they fail to acknowledge just how much Arcade Fire has grown over the years. No, the band’s new material won’t blow you away with grand, operatic and melodramatic choruses, but this is just proof of artistic growth. Arcade Fire’s 2013 album Reflektor wasn’t bad—it just wasn’t as flawless as the band’s three previous records have shown to be.

Inevitably, as Butler served as the poster child of early Arcade Fire’s frantic and intense energy, his debut will be compared to the former of these two emergent “eras” of Arcade Fire. While the multi-instrumentalist appears to lean on the early side of the discography, he comes up short on much of what made that period so successful for the band.

Absent are the sweeping choruses of Funeral, the conceptual direction of The Suburbs and the subtlety of Reflektor. Indeed, Policy ends up sounding most like 2003’s exciting but largely immature EP Arcade Fire.

Policy’s opening track “Take My Side” shares many features of the 2003 version of “No Cars Go.” Still, the song leaves a lot to be desired. Gone are the horns and the sonic charge that gave “No Cars Go” its replay value.

At the end of the day, Policy deserves to be judged on its own merits, though it is unclear whether the younger Butler will be able to break free of the comparisons—especially given Arcade Fire’s monolithic presence atop the indie totem pole.

The album paints an altogether uncertain picture. Tracks like “Something’s Coming” and “Anna” tease an electronic influence suggestive of Reflektor, whereas key tracks “What I Want” and opener “Take My Side” take a strikingly different, authentically New York rock direction.

The album’s stylistic diversity is not necessarily a bad quality, but across a mere 27 minutes and 8 songs, it feels less a coherent album and more a collection of singles Butler had lying around.

In the inescapable comparison between Butler and his “parent” band, Policy sounds the most like Arcade Fire. That is to say, it isn’t perfect—or even above average—but it certainly indicates Butler’s potential as a solo artist.

Rating: 2.5 stars