When considering Broken Social Scene’s career-worst, Forgiveness Rock Record, it’s hard to look past the album’s more hubristic aspects.
There’s no one reason why the quality of an artist’s work declines over time. There are a lot of factors to consider when this happens: personal issues could be at play, and in some cases the zeitgeist can pass an artist by. Rarely, though, could one consider hubris to be a factor in an artistic decline, especially in the decidedly low-stakes realm of indie rock. Yet, when considering Broken Social Scene’s career-worst, Forgiveness Rock Record, it’s hard to look past the album’s more hubristic aspects. An album alleged to have been made in chaos, Forgiveness instead reeks of songwriter Kevin Drew’s attempt to assert himself as a bandleader as opposed to a leader of a collective by turning certain aspects of the band’s style up to 11 at the expense of the group’s cohesiveness.
Broken Social Scene always functioned more as a relatively loose collection of individuals rather than as a band, but the cracks in the collective started to grow following their self-titled 2005 album. Following that, the individual members of the band seemed more focused on solo projects and side bands rather than the main collective, none more so than Leslie Feist, who became an international superstar in 2007. Yet, as Drew, Feist and Brendan Canning focused on solo projects, Broken Social Scene still toured and presented itself as a united front. Watch any footage from that tour, though, and you’ll find that the band’s “united front” was suspiciously focused around Drew, as his songs from both the BSS back catalog and his solo album Spirit If… were the focus of subsequent tours. Thus, it’s not that much of a surprise that, when Broken Social Scene finally went back into the studio, they went in as the Kevin Drew Experience.
For everything that there is to enjoy about Broken Social Scene, Drew’s plethora of songwriting perspectives is definitely not one of them. The man largely writes nonsensical, chaotic lyrics that serve to accurately reflect the band’s ramshackle energy rather than offer any deep insight. Plus, when he does get specific, it’s usually about wanting to fuck. Yet, in the time between their self-titled album and Forgiveness Rock Record, Drew seemed to think that he had something important to say. Lead single “World Sick” presents itself as a semi-political statement, a railing against the self-involvement that lies at the center of political strife in the world, but it’s presented in a vague and insubstantial manner that does little to illuminate what Drew’s actual point is. (The repetitive ebb-and-flow arrangement of the song doesn’t help in that regard, either.) Worse still is “Texico Bitches,” a slander-proof indictment of the oil industry that seems to think that its titular slur is the height of political protest. These detours into social and political commentary aren’t the whole of Forgiveness Rock Record, but they are emblematic of the band’s shift to being a vehicle for Drew’s thoughts and desires, all of which are decidedly immature and unfocused.
Now, one could get past Drew’s boneheaded attempts at talking politics were it not for the generally scattershot quality of the songwriting and arrangements here. Early Broken Social Scene songs weren’t always the most focused affairs, but they went down interesting pathways and managed to hold themselves together despite seeming as if they’d fall apart at any second. Now, without many of the creative voices that helped helm the band at its peak, Drew’s solution to recapturing that organized chaos is to lean heavily on repetition. The otherwise passable “Forced to Love” suffers once one realizes that the whole song has played in one minute and Drew seems content to spin the wheels a few more times to round out the running time on the track. “All to All,” the lone contribution featuring vocals from Lisa Lobsinger, suffers from the same problem, though her vocal performance is sweet enough to give the song a pass. Otherwise, Drew also relies on the time-tested trick of arrangement dissonance, whether it’s the light, bouncy pop of “Texico Bitches” or the lightly-picked, frail ode to masturbation “Me and My Hand.” That song, inevitably, serves as a crude-yet-accurate metaphor for what Forgiveness Rock Record largely is: the sound of a songwriter jerking off and passing that as art.
At its best (particularly on 2002’s brilliant You Forgot It in People), Broken Social Scene had a collaborative energy that could only really be replicated with everyone present. Granted, that became hard to do once so many of the connected bands in Toronto’s indie rock scene gained success on their own, but that chemistry was so special that trying to replicate it without everyone involved was always going to be a lousy idea. Therein lies the hubris of Forgiveness Rock Record: Drew thought he could be Broken Social Scene. Instead, he became a half-written facsimile of the band, robbed of intensity and over-reliant on one man’s pseudo-intellectual musings.