It’s easy to chide Broken Social Scene for everything that’s happened in the wake of their landmark You Forgot It In People album. Every lackluster imitation record that’s come after it can be directly or indirectly linked back to YFIIP‘s swirling dust clouds of sound, but that doesn’t mean we should be blaming BSS for the mediocrity of the masses. Broken Social Scene does not have to answer for those records; they only have to answer for their own.
Forgiveness Rock Record could very well be their response to the success and responsibility that’s been placed on their collective shoulders for the better part of the last 10 years. It’s a record that cannot be dissected from its past. To look at it in isolation of their previous work diminishes its impact. In 2002 You Forgot It In People sounded meticulous and crisp in its construction. 2005′s Broken Social Scene was shambolic in a very symbolic way. It jettisoned the preciseness of its predecessor by blurring lines and blending sounds to the point where a causal listener would find it hard to tell where one track ends and the other begins. It was a mirror held up to the band’s internal workings: the core of Broken Social Scene was finding itself in shambles as well, and would soon embark on a much-needed repose. What’s a band to do other than to take a break and regroup? The dilemma then: what happens when they put aside their differences, make amends and come back together to make music? Where does a band go after having traversed two musical extremes in just two records?
In a sense, they go back to basics. The basics in this case being the gravitational centre of the band, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. Each produced their own BSS-related solo record that seemed to be the salve that healed the friction within the collective. It’s no surprise that “Forgiveness” is in the record’s name. The sound of Broken Social Scene 2010 is very much of a band making peace with itself. Lyrics like “That why I’m leavin’ the spoken detention/and I romanced some dicks so that I could confess that/I get world sick everytime I take a stand/I get world sick/my love is for my man” on album opener “World Sick” hint at a reconciliation between friends as much as it does to man-on-man love. “Sentimental X’s” carries the notion further, this time seemingly directed at a former lover or–and I’m admitting its a stretch–the fickleness of the music scene they spawned: “A friend, a friend you used to call/Off and on is what we want/What we want is off and on” and “Why couldn’t they leave us where they found us/When we were neither one the wildest/We’re taken along, is it timeless?/Shouldn’t we keep it as a promise?”
For me, Forgiveness Rock Record is the first time I’ve ever been compelled to look at a Broken Social scene lyric sheet. There were songs about love and loss on the other records, but those lyrics just seemed like an afterthought, whereas now they feel like the framework the rest of the record was built on. There’s angst and anger balanced by regret and remorse in the words and music alike. For the “Sweetest Kill”, my personal favourite track on Forgiveness Rock Record, you feel the disillusionment and confusion in both the words and the deep bass rhythm. “Texaco Bitches” not only speaks of a reunion of lost souls but sounds like the party that’s thrown in celebration. I’m afraid to even speculate what Kevin Drew is trying to tell us on “Me and My Hand”, but it too sounds conciliatory in its simplicity.
If the success and notoriety of You Forgot It In People had never led to the parting of ways and frustration of Broken Social Scene, would we still have ended up with Forgiveness Rock Record? My guess is no. One begot the other. Forgiveness Rock Record is a healing album, and its in that healing that Broken Social Scene has managed to make their most emotional and profound musical statement. Forgiveness is never easy, and it comes at a cost to everyone involved, but ultimately everyone–band and fan alike– is with something stronger and more profound than what was there before.
Forgiveness Rock Record was released May 4, 2010 on Arts & Crafts.
Tags: Broken Social Scene, Polaris Music Prize