Broken Social Scene’s “Forgiveness Rock Record” (2010) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 2 / 5 stars

Their concept is an interesting one: record en mass with a crowd of artists whose talents and respective genres run the gamut from classical to avant-garde. When there is cohesion and purpose, the diversity contributes to some fascinating productions.

When Broken Social Scene falls short, though, the distance is vast.

With one exception, Forgiveness Rock Record falls far short of anything approaching complete success past the sixth track.  Which is a shame, because the first six tracks are so fantastic, each finding an order in the chaos of up to fourteen chefs with their hands in the pot.

Songs like “Forced to Love” border on beautiful, hinting at single-worthiness.  Ten years ago, fifteen perhaps, they may have stood a chance on commercial radio.  Consider the quirky catchiness of “Texico Bitches” or the bouncy indie rock of “Art House Director” — these are the standout tracks where, clearly, something special was tapped into.

Even “All to All,” which threatens to stretch out for too long, is a gorgeous piece that walks the line between indie and dance, owing not a little to Lisa Lobsinger’s lead.  When Leslie Feist later unfolds “Sentimental X’s,” it reads as an attempt to mimic “All to All.”  Perhaps this was purposeful, as a means of pulling the otherwise disparate pieces of the album together.

Even still, it falls short.

The opener “World Sick” hints at a truth later revealed:  Broken Social Scene doesn’t always know when to cut it short or rein it in.  On the seven minute “World Sick,” their patient unraveling of the larger concept translates, and they quickly follow up with the fast-paced three-minute “Chase Scene” as a prompt reminder that not every track on Forgiveness Rock Record will be a test of the listener’s patience.  Even as a large group, they know how to hit a groove and run with it.

This is a key aspect present in the first six tracks that disappears almost irretrievably for the remainder of the album.

Broken Social Scene's "Forgiveness Rock Record" (2010)

Broken Social Scene's "Forgiveness Rock Record" (2010)

After “Art House Director” fades, the bulk of the album kicks off with “Highway Slipper Jam,” beginning with a vocal burst that sounds like something Femi Kuti would contribute to a Brett Dennen single.  Whereas it is a fun accompaniment on the latter, it sits oddly in isolation on this seventh track.  It is not so much that “Highway Slipper Jam” is a bad song.  It is more that it is hardly a song at all.  Essentially, this track expresses what is implied by the tag “Jam”: it is little more than a drum beat and some disconnected vocals and guitars.

“Ungrateful Little Father” opens lyrically strong and catchy even, yet dissolves into a more than three minute indulgence that sounds like a dream sequence set in a casino.

From there, most of the remaining tracks either tease at something more or fall apart as echoes of other sounds on the album.  “Meet Me in the Basement” builds up to a legitimate rock song… without any vocals or anything really interesting or fresh after the midpoint about two minutes in.   As noted above, “Sentimental X’s” reads as an inferior six-minute rewrite of “All to All.”

“Sweetest Kill” is the most significant tease on the record, unfolding an alluring lead vocal and pulsing bass lines that would please, if only it didn’t hold to the established norm for all five minutes of the song.  “Romance to the Grave” will keep your interest, but there is still something lacking here that wasn’t in those first six tracks, by now a distant memory.

Then comes “Water in Hell.”

From the opening guitar run, it is clear that “Water in Hell” is more well put together than anything since “Art House Director.”  It still very much bears the Broken Social Scene watermark, adding reverb and quirky background accompaniment, but it just works.  And it works so well that you could listen for all the unique parts that are woven masterfully together, hinting at a looseness without ever falling apart, or simply kick back and rock out.

The album concludes with “Me and My Hand,” which is underwhelming, but pretty and haunting and, thus, a fitting lead-in for anyone who decides to listen to track one again. (Why you wouldn’t give tracks one through six another play, having made it all the way through, I don’t know.)

In short, I haven’t written Broken Social Scene off after this album, but the gap between their excellent songs and their unrealized and mediocre songs is vast.  Accordingly, Forgiveness Rock Records blazes admirably through the first six before falling apart, only to be temporarily revived by the standout “Water in Hell.”  Records like this perhaps serve best as a reminder of why the Beatles set the standard number of tracks at twelve and others, from Bob Dylan to Weezer, have since scaled that back to ten or even into the single digits.

We all like to get the most for our money, but the greater desire should always be to get consistently excellent music that begs for multiple listens – a desire that Forgiveness Rock Record on the whole, for all its solid tracks, simply can’t satisfy.

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

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