If I had ever bothered trying to compile my list of the best albums of the ’00s it would have been pretty futile, as two albums would still be fighting it out for top spot right now, bludgeoning each other relentlessly with no sign of either giving up. The irresitable force meeting the immovable object and all that. The fact that Broken Social Scene are responsible for both records goes some way to explaining why they are so evenly matched. You Forgot It In People (2003) and Broken Social Scene (2005) were both vast collections of thundering garage-rock anthems and messy ballads that sound like they were scraped off the floor the morning after a party.
It shouldn’t surprise you then that I was fairly excited about the imminent arrival of their new album when it was announced a while ago. Though the band (in some form or other) had released and toured two albums by individual members in the last few years, there was always going to be something special about the return of the full, sprawling collective. Preview track “World Sick” which appeared earlier in the Spring certainly pointed towards another helping of epic tunes. With a slow build-up that creeps towards a cacophonous chorus with cascading guitar solos and Kevin Drew’s trademark wailing vocals, this was everything their fans wanted and then some. Listening to the album recently, I’ve been impressed by the band’s continued determination to strive for variety as well as their usual high standards.
On Forgiveness Rock Record the band take aim at all sorts of sounds and styles and almost all of their attempts hit the target. After the aforementioned “World Sick” opens the album, “Chase Scene” is the band’s Dukes of Hazard moment as they provide a soundtrack to what could only be some sort of apocalyptic chase scene from a Transformers film (if they were at all exciting). There’s plenty on the album for fans of the old stuff, with “Forced To Love” being a typical Drew anthem, albeit with a hint of aggression, while “Art House Director” references the faster version of “Major Label Debut” both in its jangling intro and the raucous speed and addictively catchy brass. “Highway Slipper Jam” sees them take their relaxed, hazy side to a new, almost Hawaiian extreme, while “Sentimental X’s” recalls the ambient electronica of the early albums with the added bonus of the cushioned vocals of Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Leslie Feist. Though I could be wrong, “Water In Hell” sounds like it can only be the work of Brendan Canning – his homage to acts like Pavement.
“Meet Me In The Basement” is a standout if only because a song so bombastic and pounding can not be ignored. It is ludicrously overblown and follows where tracks like “KC Accidental” and the earth-shattering “It’s All Gonna Break” have lead on the previous albums. You would criticize them for going over the top, but that is really what this band is all about. They’re about adventure and recklessness, big choruses and even bigger smiles. But amidst the barrage of noise made by such a rowdy collective, there’s time and space for subtleties as well. The closing track “Me And My Hand” – picked from a bunch of late-night exprimental recordings which make up the Lo-Fi For The Dividing Nights bonus disc – is reminiscent of both the early instrumentals and the throw-away acoustic numbers on Drew’s solo album. It’s the light-raindrops-on-your-roof tempo and twisted, whispered vocal melody of “Sweetest Kill” that has really been doing it for me so far though. Perhaps it’s because, on an album of pick n’ mix variety, it sounds like something they’ve never done before even though its steady rhythm and saccharine-sweet vocals are closely related to classics like “Lover’s Spit”. As the collective performing under the Broken Social Scene banner grows and evolves, so too does their music. As this new album shows, they have found countless ways to reinvent themselves within the successful template of their previous albums.