A Transformational Musician Makes a Moving Statement

Will Butler | Generations | (Merge)
Four out of five stars

As a member of the band Arcade Fire, Will Butler could very well rest on his laurels. Nevertheless, with the release of his first solo album Policy some five years ago, he’s successfully stepped out on his own. Aside from participating in the recording of his band’s live Friday Night album and their last studio effort, Everything Now, he’s earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard and shared a series of touring town hall meetings dealing with such relevant issues as prison reform, voting rights and municipal policy.

That’s quite a heady list of accomplishments, and the fact that Butler has turned his attention to areas of public concern certainly makes for an auspicious undertaking. And yet while his dual careers might seem mutually exclusive, Butler’s new solo entry, Generations,comes across as a rallying cry of its own. Although it’s occasionally imbued with doses of electronica and various unexpected sounds of a percussive variety, the album overall hones in on topics well in keeping with today’s uncertain circumstances. “Had enough of heartache… Had enough of bad news,” Butler complains on the ravaged and ragged opening track “Outta Here.” Three songs later, on the loping singalong of sorts “Close My Eyes,” he wistfully wails “I’m tired of waiting for a better day,” before adding “”But I’m scared and I’m lazy, and nothing’s gonna change.”

Granted, we’re dependent on an election in November to determine whether that change will be realized for the better, but given its ever-constant shift in tone and tenacity, Butler’s internal struggle seems to rage between complacency and commitment. For example, the consistent clapping that provides the pulse of “Surrender” gives rise to a cheery chorus that completely belies an otherwise pessimistic perspective. “Hide It Away” is a rowdy romp of sorts, thoroughly energized and emphatic. On the other hand, there’s something oblique yet ominous about “Hard Times” and “Promised,” thanks in no small part to the didactic thump and spunk that drive the two tracks in immediate succession.

Clearly though, the most driven and dynamic track overall is the one that comes close to the end,   the decidedly titled “Not Gonna Die.” All rock and rampage, it soars on the strength of an ever cascading melody that explodes like fireworks as the song races towards its conclusion. It leaves a formidable impression, and ensures that Butler’s presence will continue to resonate long after the album’s final notes fade.

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