Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Forgiveness Rock Record - Broken Social Scene (SUMMER 2010)

Forgiveness Rock Record

Broken Social Scene
Arts & Crafts.

SCQ Rating: 72%

You fuck what you love / and you love what you fuck”. Wow, that was the last time we heard Broken Social Scene, at least in its pure incarnation, waxing philosophic like disaffected echo-boomers over The Beatles’ grand finale “the love you take / is equal to the love you make”. As surely as that summation from ‘The End’ is epilogued on Abbey Road by the inconsequential ditty ‘Her Majesty’, I felt the 'Broken Social Scene Presents' series would stretch out the shimmer of their 2005 self-titled album without particular cause. Sure, everyone in the BSS-troupe was busy with other musical commitments but no one was going to forget the collective responsible for delivering at least two masterpieces. Yet the name was attached anyway, to Spirit If… and Something For All of Us, and amid these increasingly diminished returns, Broken Social Scene – perhaps the most ironic band name ever – became a brand.

The “BSS Presents” saga, brief as it was, feels even less rational given how ambiguous this band’s roster remains on Forgiveness Rock Record, the band’s “official” return (and perhaps their most ironic album title ever). Written and arranged by a six-strong group of BSS alumni (among them the crucial duo of Drew and Canning) and newcomer Lisa Lobsinger, this follow-up to Broken Social Scene packs a serious punch with ‘World Sick’, an opener executing dreamy verses and blown-out choruses with textbook precision. By the time it subsides into an ambient wash of dark undercurrents at the five-minute mark, ‘World Sick’ has taken a touristy crash-course of the band's most commercial elements, with pop-constructs that were once tread sporadically and with caution, now tossed into a heavy-handed anthem. The same can be said for ‘Ungrateful Little Father’ in how it wields the band’s accessible cool across their catalog’s spectrum, from deft percussion and warm instrumentation to an aftermath of swirling keys and dulled strings. It’s at once impressive and discouraging, the band’s ability to refine and undermine their history in one fell swoop.

From an indie-rock standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with ‘World Sick’ nor any of the contentious tracks thereafter; these are good, consumable songs from our talented army of Toronto bohemians. Yet “good songs” in the Broken Social Scene universe have traditionally been excused as blunders on the listener’s end, not the band’s, where a track’s brilliance was so engrossing, the only conceivable fault for labeling a song as merely "good" could rest on a listener’s casual short-sightedness. That’s an argument bleeding with bias – that Broken Social Scene, in their prime, were impervious to astute criticism – but there’s no denying that pop was being revolutionized on their prior two full-lengths and a line was being drawn, however haphazardly, in the sand; either you got it or you didn’t. Forgiveness Rock Record doesn’t earn that modern art-like imperviousness to critique because it’s non-progressive. Overly preoccupied with verse/chorus songwriting while relegating their experimental half into massive cracks, much of this record relies on been-there hooks and Drew’s cursory profanity (‘Texico Bitches’) or busily arranged but emotionally vacant blow-outs (‘Art House Director’). Granted, this is coming from the guy who thought ‘Fire Eye’d Boy’, at its time, was too straight-forward but Forgiveness Rock Record feels too measured and engorged to keep us truly engaged.

Similar to how the 'BSS Presents' material used the band’s trademarks without daring any new directions, Forgiveness Rock Record comes off a little exploitative. So it’s not a masterpiece; moving on, Broken Social Scene still find ways to grip listeners with the intimate ‘Sweetest Kill’, the compact energy of ‘Forced To Love’ and the rocking instrumental ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’. While these songs aren’t about creating provocative pop-explorations anymore, they adhere well to both the Arts & Crafts sound and modern radio's confines. Finding its members, additional members and guests no longer subversive but still super-excessive, Forgiveness Rock Record should be a fine soundtrack to these summer months. At the very least, it's a bunch of good songs.

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