It’s been five years since Broken Social Scene’s eponymous third album, and it’s still pretty overwhelming. Featuring damn near half of Canada in an effort to compress every conceivable musical idea into just over an hour, it’s a record that excites even as it suffocates, much like auto-erotic asphyxiation.
Of course, that’s what killed David Carradine, so it’s something of a relief that Forgiveness Rock Record pares the band down somewhat. Quite literally, actually, with just seven core members getting their names etched upon the inlay, down from twice that last time.
They’ve not exactly gone minimalist, though. Whilst this is the most consistent of Broken Social Scene’s releases it’s hardly restrained, its fourteen tracks engorged with a glut of melody and instrumentation, and retching with collaborators. Certainly it’s a varied listen, and one which retains the band’s characteristic density, but it’s also remarkably approachable, with a defiant pop sensibility threading throughout that goes a long way to making the more disparate song structures cohere.
That’s not to suggest an effortless listen by any means, and it’s likely to take a fair investment of time to get to grips with its tonal shifts and bipolar unpredictability. Opener World Sick veers from chiming atmospherics to anthemic stadium-rock without warning, sound swelling and receding like waves on a beach, the latter ninety seconds a long, drawn-out detumescence before the frantic orgy of strings and breakneck harmonising of Chase Scene brings us to a point of exhaustion just ten minutes into an hour-long album.
It’s not really until fifth track All To All that we can get our breath back, although it’s such a strong song that it’s likely to have been taken away again by the close. A showcase for now full-time member Lisa Lobsinger, it’s a stunning mesh of glitchy electronica and melancholic strings that overshadows much of what comes after. Which is a bit unfair to subsequent track Art House Director, really, because it’s also excellent, a riotous workout of trumpet stabs and cinematic interludes.
Sentimental X’s features the only contributions from long-time collaborators Emily Haines (Metric), Leslie Feist and Amy Millan (Stars), although the resulting song is far more subtle than you’d expect from such a high-profile assembly – not a bad piece at all, but a touch underwhelming, particularly compared to the brooding, psychopathic understatement of Sweetest Kill that follows after.
To be honest there’s very little here that dips in quality. At nearly seven minutes Ungrateful Little Father’s playful reprise of earlier melodies outstays its welcome, perhaps, and the penultimate Water In Hell fails to form much of a memory, but given how much there is to take in on this album that’s probably a mercy. In keeping with the title of the record we can even forgive the sixth-form balladry of closer Me and My Hand, a paean to self-destruction that continues Kevin Drew’s penchant for smut, previously articulated in 2006’s Handjobs For The Holidays and Love Vs Porn, Drew’s contribution to last year’s Dark Was The Night benefits compilation, although your tolerance might not stretch to the producer who should have put in more time editing the album down a bit.
Such nit-picking seems churlish, though: overall this is a very impressive album which deserves a lot more attention than it will probably receive. Whilst undeniably successful Broken Social Scene have never quite achieved the acclaim – in the UK at least – that they warrant, perhaps because we’ve all been so distracted by the Arcade Fire, with whom they share a certain scope and ambition. Forgiveness Rock Record might lack the romance of Funeral but it’s far more alive than Neon Bible, with an urgency and energy that invigorates rather than drains: whether enough of us give it the time to demonstrate this remains to be seen, but it’s undeniably one of the strongest releases of the year so far.