When it comes to Broken Social Scene, I’ll confess to being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Asking me for my simplest opinion of the band, I’d say that I love them and that they’re one of my favorite bands. But lately things have become complicated. Specifically, since 2005’s self-titled album, which eventually turned into a “hiatus” of sorts for the band. The word hiatus is in quotes because while many of the loose members went their separate ways for a time, there was still a series of “Broken Social Scene Presents…” albums from main guys Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning to keep the name somewhat alive during that time. Those records were decent (not not amazing), and largely stuck to the same sound the full Broken Social Scene collective had established on previous albums. It was late last year that Kevin Drew announced the official reformation of Broken Social Scene, and their new album “Forgiveness Rock Record” arrives tomorrow.
On the surface, I should be leaping with excitement at the prospect of a new Broken Social Scene album. “You Forgot It In People” is among my Top 10 Albums of the 00s, and the last official BSS record was pretty damn good too. My excitement, however, has been tempered by the fact that little to nothing has really changed since the “Broken Social Scene Presents” days aside from the word “Presents”. Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning still lead a motley group of people, while former female powerhouses such as Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, and Amy Millan can scarcely be counted upon to make even a single track guest appearance anymore. Of course they’re all off doing their own things, what with Feist having two popular records under her belt, Haines gaining more press than ever for the last Metric record, and Millan’s band Stars preparing to release yet another album of delicious indie pop. Translation: I went into “Forgiveness Rock Record” under the belief that despite boasting a roster of nine “core” members and 22 “guest” musicians and vocalists, this was not nearly the same band as before. Or, to put it a different way, there seems to be no way any of us are ever going to hear “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” performed live again, unless band members past and present all just “happen” to be in the same place at the same time. To help take away some of that pain and handle some of those older songs with female parts, new member Lisa Lobsinger is on board. I can’t help but think the way she does a “7/4 Shoreline” or a “Cause=Time” will be poor in comparison to the Feist versions. All these things being said, among a host of other concerns, let me dive in to talking about the actual content on “Forgiveness Rock Record,” and whether or not it lives up to the glory of the other albums under the Broken Social Scene name.
Things get off to a grand start with the 7-minute opener “World Sick”, a song that contains most of the Broken Social Scene trademarks, including a cool instrumental intro and outro along with a chorus that makes you want to shout from the rooftops. It’d make for a great single, except, you know, it’s 7 minutes. “Chase Scene” follows the high of the epic opening cut with a speedy, noisy adventure that’s in and out before you can catch up to it. “Texico Bitches” could be considered another highlight, a fast-paced anti-oil corporation rager that three tracks in seems to indicate that this might be a very revitalized, energized and more accessible (but still angry) version of the band than ever before. Honestly, I was expecting more quieter, or at least slower tracks that dominated past releases, instead of this propulsive and stadium-sized stuff. “All to All” is interesting as Lisa Lobsinger’s first lead vocal turn. It’s not a hugely remarkable track aside from its ethereal beauty, though I can’t help but think that Feist or even Amy Millan could have done more with it. “Art House Director” gets things all moody and atmospheric and features the classic BSS horn section with great aplomb. The album’s only instrumental, “Meet Me in the Basement,” might actually be the best instrumental they’ve ever done, and that’s saying something. I’m also offered quite a bit of relief in the form of “Sentimental X’s”, an Emily Haines-fronted tune with backing vocals from none other than Feist and Millan. I guess only the faster, louder jams are reserved for the guys, but the fact is lyrically and emotionally, “Sentimental X’s” hits all the right notes and really pushed my excitement about this band back into the red. At the end of the album are two interesting songs. “Water In Hell” sounds less like your typical Broken Social Scene song and more like a guitar jam that Dinosaur Jr. might put out. Given that band members are not only fans of J. Mascis & Co., but have played with them for a gig or two, the soundalike isn’t so much a surprise as it is impressive that they can pull it off so well. Then there’s “Me and My Hand”, Kevin Drew’s 2-minute quiet opus to masturbation. I don’t have anything to say about the song other than I’m glad that oddity closes the album out.
So if you can’t figure it out by now, I’m pretty pleased with “Forgiveness Rock Record”. I’m still a little unsure as to where it stands among the stellar Broken Social Scene catalogue, but it’s definitely better than both of the “Presents” albums that were released during the hiatus days. It’s nice to have the “band” back together, even if the lineup does continue to fluctuate and the chances of the full collective playing a live show become increasingly slim. Lisa Lobsinger is an okay addition to the group as their lone “full time” female member, though I still prefer the ladies of old. Mainly though, I’m just glad this band is still hitting their hallmarks while continuing to push their own boundaries at the same time. There’s a certain degree of new excitement and renewed strength among the BSS core that’s also refreshing. My concern now is how these songs will translate into their live show. The first half of the record seems especially built for the size and scope of venues that the band plays, so that could provide some increased potency to their performance. I’ve seen Broken Social Scene live a total of 3 times, once with the entire collective in tow (which was far and away the best time). Their massive celebrations and love-fests, which often include Kevin Drew commanding the crowd to yell as loud as they can, are cathartic and heartfelt. “Forgiveness Rock Record” looks to keep that spirit intact, and I think this marks the first time that similar spirit has really come through on one of their recorded albums. You bet your ass I think you should pick up a copy of the record. It’s no “You Forgot It In People”, but it does what only Broken Social Scene does best, and that’s about all any of us can truly hope for.