BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: FORGIVENESS ROCK RECORD (2010)
1) World Sick; 2) Chase Scene; 3) Texico Bitches; 4) Forced To Love; 5) All To All; 6) Art House Director; 7) Highway Slipper Jam; 8) Ungrateful Little Father; 9) Meet Me In The Basement; 10) Sentimental X's; 11) Sweetest Kill; 12) Romance To The Grave; 13) Water In Hell; 14) Me And My Hand.
Discographies formally show a five-year hiatus between Broken Social Scene and Forgiveness Rock Record, but this is an illusion: in reality, two more albums were released in the interim as pseudo-«solo projects», one by Drew and one by Canning, even though many of the members of B.S.S. still played on both records, and stylistically they were not all that different from the usual stuff. We will return to them later on; for now, let us stick to formalities and see what happened on May 4, 2010, when once again they returned to us as Broken Social Scene, with yet another innovative three-word title that implies religious philosophy masking as popular music — or vice versa... hardly any difference either way.
Where there is some difference is in the subtle, but important shift of attitude. Over those five years, Broken Social Scene seem to have learned that (a) cramming fifty thousand instruments within the small confines of a five-minute anthem does not automatically make it mind-blowing and stupendous; (b) a distorted guitar rock foundation may endear you to the rigidly traditional «indie rock community», but there are also clear-cut limits to the spiritual power of the power chord; (c) precisely shaped hooks matter, after all, especially if you are trying to target the average concert-going Joe rather than some whacked out New Age-crazy audience — you have to get at least one or two of those on your album, or else you risk to irritate even the critics.
This does not mean that mediocrity will be suddenly replaced by genius or anything, but it does mean that the album never sounds as consistently annoying as its predecessor. Even its only instrumental number, ʽMeet Me In The Basementʼ, puts a couple of simple, but effectively optimistic guitar / violin phrases on top of the usual pompous stomp that may draw your attention away from the generic rhythmics and chain it to something else — when that colorful three-note riff makes its appearance at 1:03 into the song, for instance, it produces a singular emotional jolt the likes of which B.S.S. rarely, if ever, hunted for in their early life.
The idea of «forgiveness» as such is exploited in ʽAll To Allʼ, an honestly beautiful little number that relies on electronic loops rather than rhythm guitars and a gorgeously universalist vocal part from Lisa Lobsinger — the manner in which she intones "you made your life on everything" is no different from the usual «hazy nymph» style of the 2000s (think Beach House or Broadcast or whatever else), but no less soulfully engaging because of that. And, God be praised, the song remains relatively uncluttered — just a few quiet violin flourishes and kaleidoscopic electronic sprinkling in the background here and there, enhancing the elfish mood rather than cloaking it. Or maybe I am just a sucker for all the ladies of B.S.S. — the second best song here, as far as I am concerned, is ʽSentimental X'sʼ, sung by an entire trio of indie houris (Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, and Amy Millan — apparently, the first time all three pooled their vocal cords together on the same song), also with a one-of-a-kind arrangement: now all the strings, electronics, and brass tacks have been carefully assembled and wound up in the background, leaving only the pulsating rhythms and the vocal harmonies in the foreground. It does feel better.
The loud, Wilco-ish folk-rockers have also been improved — ʽWater In Hellʼ, for instance, makes clever use of falsettos, thoughtfully separates the distorted rhythm and clean colorful lead guitars, and slows down the tempo to give the anthem a little barroom bravado; and ʽForced To Loveʼ is more reminiscent of the old noisy B.S.S., but the chorus is catchy anyway. For some fans, the major highlight came on with the melancholia / nostalgia of ʽSweetest Killʼ, and it does give off the impression of gorgeous profoundness for a minute or so; however, beyond the initial impression, the band did not find a proper way to develop the melody, so the song pretty much dug itself a profound pit in a matter of seconds, and then just stayed there.
Of course, it is still very hard to understand if there actually is anything that B.S.S. are «about». The line "I get world sick everytime I take a stand" may ring true with many people, but B.S.S. still think too much of themselves to allow the words and the music to shed some of its ambiguity — and if the band is transmitting any «message» at all, it hardly does itself a favor by ending the album with a song titled ʽMe And My Handʼ: "Me and my hand / We've been together since I was born", sung in a «John Lennon circa 1979, baking bread with one hand and playing guitar with the other» sort of style, is an awful idea to end the album, and a good reminder that, no matter how much of an overall improvement the whole thing is, it is still the product of a «B-grade» band at best, sometimes lapsing into C-grade.
Still, a step up is a step up — essentially, there are more «pop» elements here than «rock» ones, and for Broken Social Scene, whose emotional palette rather consists of moody optimism and intelligent hope than depression, aggression, and sociopathy, this is a good, adequate shift of focus. Throw in the seductive lady singers and occasional hooks, and a thumbs up becomes self-explainable. I will not force myself into the delusion that any of this stuff will have much «staying power», but as long as it did stay around, it was pretty decent entertainment this time.
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