Generations makes a strong case that Arcade Fire’s second most famous Butler brother, Will, could be the group’s pop mastermind with its quirky, upbeat rockers about modern life. He opens the record with “Outta Here,” which he built with fuzzy analog keyboards and smartypants lyrics like, “Had enough bad news/Had enough of your generation.” It recalls Eno and Bowie in its synthiness but also Spoon in its sunny determination. “Close My Eyes” feels a bit like Suicide pretending to be a power-pop band with its quivering keys and its catchy “In my mind I want to choose the right” chorus. The glitchy “Hard Times” balances Butler’s brooding with disco-house keyboards, and “Surrender” feels like a gospel call-and-response moment of ascendency.
But it all comes crashing down on Generations’ final two offerings. “Not Gonna Die” starts off with Butler offering thanks for his relative safety in a harsh world — “I’m not gonna die in Times Square … from a dirty bomb … shot down on the lawn,” as in, “I won’t live my life in fear” — but considering the fact that people of color can’t enjoy the privilege of that comfort in America today, one of the song’s later lyrics, “Quit saying that some stranger’s gonna kill me,” feels out of touch with the cultural moment. At the very least, it’s ham-fisted. Worse yet, the Broadway-esque final song, “Fine,” opens with this scene: “George Washington and all his slaves — they were hanging outside down by Tom Sawyer’s cave, when Henry exclaimed, ‘George, sometimes you can be kind of a dick!’ And George put down his pipe, and he picked up his whip. He said, ‘Fine … You’ve got me this time. I am yours, but you’ll always be mine — together, ’til the end of time.'” Suddenly, it just feels tragically tone deaf.