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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It In People


BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE (2002)

1) Capture The Flag; 2) KC Accidental; 3) Stars And Sons; 4) Almost Crimes; 5) Looks Just Like The Sun; 6) Paci­fic Theme; 7) Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl; 8) Cause = Time; 9) Late Nineties Bedroom Rock For The Mis­sionaries; 10) Shampoo Suicide; 11) Lover's Spit; 12) I'm Still Your Fag; 13) Pitter Patter Goes My Heart.

Only one year has passed and Broken Social Scene have already swelled from a guest-dependent rhyth­mic ambient duo to an eleven-piece orchestra, bashing out idealistically epic indie rock — in their own words, «anthems for a seventeen year-old girl», although most of this stuff is perfectly suitable for seventeen year-old boys as well (maybe it is the lack of any sort of «heaviness» in the arrangements that prompted them to address their female audiences). Their aspirations are noble, their ambitions humble, and their allusions subtle. Nevertheless, the reproachingly titled You For­got It In People fails to be that beautiful, long-coveted masterpiece that the critics had been waiting for, hurrying up to lavish all sorts of praises on the album when it came out.

The basic problem is that, despite switching to the traditional «rock song» format, the styles and attitudes remain essentially the same — this is still little more than nicely sounding, polyphonous background music, yet somehow, we are now supposed to be memorizing the themes, singing along to the anthemic choruses, and agreeing with its goal of «teaching» us something. I honestly tried doing all three of these things, but, unlike the average BSS fan, shamefully failed on all counts — the melodies were found unmemorable, the choruses generally uninviting, and the band's «soulfulness» hopelessly stuck in no-man's-land somewhere between Nick Drake, Bruce Springsteen, and Jeff Tweedy, all of whom they try to be at the same time. As you can imagine, it would take a bunch of miracle workers to do that, and even if there is one miracle worker among the eleven current members of BSS, it is pretty hard to spot him / her from among the other ten.

Do not get me wrong: nothing is overtly «bad» here, in fact, from a purely technical angle, the album is unassailable — genuine and diverse instrumentation, competent sound layering without any unwarranted chaos, pleasant, unaffected vocal tones, obscure, but not altogether meaningless lyrics, in short, everything within the limits of good taste and intellectual inoffensiveness. I fully understand how, for instance, all those people whose minds were just blown by Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot could want them to be re-blown with this record. But Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had «the spark» — actually, above everything else, it had a strong focus on hooks and personality. Broken Social Scene, in contrast, «focus» on... well, on a broken social scene.

It will suffice to make a first conclusion based on the album's first proper song, ʽKC Accidentalʼ, named after Kevin Drew's first band (the hazy Floyd-ian instrumental ʽCapture The Flagʼ is the formal opener, but it is only a brief ambient overture) — a few initially discordant guitar notes and violin scrapes quickly give way to a fast-paced anthem in the «over-the-waves» paradigm: deep rolling guitar waves, seagullish whistling violins, and electronic sirens wailing their way over the surface. But without even a single genuinely exciting part, this anthem only packs the technical ingredients for success — somewhere along the way these guys seem to have forgotten that a massive collective sound still has to have a great backbone, one that would still sound at­tractive when recorded at a piano or on acoustic guitar by one guy on a demo tape.

This is actually a proverbial truth that would very soon be made use of by BSS' Canadian partners, Arcade Fire, and this is why the equally anthemic Funeral is a modern masterpiece whereas You Forgot It In People is, for the most part, an impressively tasteful bore. When they revert to their old «moody» self, e. g. on ʽPacific Themeʼ or on the album closer ʽPitter Patter Goes My Heartʼ, they are not overreaching their grasp; when they dip into the freak-folk of ʽStars And Sonsʼ or the pomp-rock of ʽAlmost Crimesʼ, they are.

Only two songs on the entire album struck me as being out of the ordinary. The above-mentioned ʽAnthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girlʼ almost accidentally hits upon a beautifully tense vo­cal / instrumental sequence in the chorus — which works even despite the vocals being masked by a (seventeen year-old?) wheezy chipmunk effect; and the immediately ensuing pop rocker ʽCause = Timeʼ has a deliciously emotional riff popping out of the speakers around the 2:30 mark — and coming back in later. Consequently, these two songs have plain old heart-grappling hooks, unlike others that just have vague atmospheres and cool-sounding titles (although in 2002, thirty years after the hip intellectual freshmen had invaded the pop music business, who's to judge exactly how cool a title like ʽLate Nineties Bedroom Rock For The Missionariesʼ is supposed to look?).

Oh, actually, speaking of titles, the album was supposed to receive the Mark Knopfler Annual Re­ward for ʽI'm Still Your Fagʼ, but got sidetracked at the last moment as the jury became convinced that it is rather sung from the perspective of an unjustly deserted and psychologically traumatized cigarette butt. Besides, melodically it is a somewhat boring mix of folk and bossa nova — were it given a major stadium riff on the ʽMoney For Nothingʼ scale, the controversy over lines like "I swore I drank your piss that night to see if I could live" would have been much higher. But who really cares, as long as it's only a bunch of unknown Canadian hobos we're dealing with here?

I refrain from an overt thumbs down, if only out of respect for how much real sweaty work went into the final product — and an additional bonus of several really really pleasant moments — but as far as my own paradigm is concerned, You Forgot It In People does break the golden rule of «staying adequate»: it bites off far more than these eleven people might chew. Want it or not, they are just your average, regular, well-meaning, self-educated indie kids, and they do not know the meaning of life — heck, they do not even properly understand the meaning of getting eleven people together in one studio. Listenable and pretty, yes, but never great, and definitely overrated back in its time.

Check "You Forgot It In People" (CD) on Amazon
Check "You Forgot It In People" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. I definitely disagree with your assessment of this album- it's one of my all time favorites. I understand where your argument is coming from though, as BSS songs rarely focus on memorable melodies. To me, that polyphonous sound that teeters on chaos without ever succumbing to it provides more than enough appeal. I agree that Anthems and Cause=Time are the two best tracks here.

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  2. I bought this yesterday based solely on your review of the album. Is that strange?

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