“Epic” is a word that gets lazily tacked onto a lot of Broken Social Scene’s music, but with good reason. Broken Social Scene is really the band of the grand, sentimental, indie-rock gesture. Earlier in the band’s life, press outlets made a big deal of its size, which included upward of 15 members and certainly seemed like a grand gesture itself. Seeing Broken Social Scene live, with more than 10 people onstage, gave the impression that you had just paid money to see a bunch of people hang out and incidentally produce noise, an accessory of the band’s brand of earnest sentimentality. Any Broken Social Scene fan coming to Forgiveness Rock Record, the band’s fourth proper full-length, will probably grade it on the above qualities.
An immediately noticeable difference between Forgiveness Rock Record and the other two Broken Social Scene full-lengths that feature this version of the band — the one that is the most pop-oriented and populated — is that two of Broken Social Scene’s ladies, Leslie Feist and Amy Milan, have their roles scaled back significantly. Sure, they still make appearances, and Emily Haines and Lisa Lobsinger return, with Lobsinger taking on a greater role than in past recordings. But the spotlight’s a little bit dimmer without Milan and Feist crooning in it.
Just as noticeable is the fact that Forgiveness Rock Record appears less noisy than past Broken Social Scene records. Nowhere on this album is there a song that seems as discordant, loud, and exuberantly sloppy as “Almost Crimes” or “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (a Better Day),” for instance. In fact, the album has songs that are distinctly quieter than tracks in past releases, like “Romance to the Grave” and “Highway Slipper Jam.” It all implies that the band has relaxed in some fundamental way since its self-titled 2005 release.
Relaxed, though, doesn’t mean that the band isn’t still full of sprawling, earnest movements and stadium-size emoting. The positive elements that are missing from this record have really just been exchanged for subtler, less bombastic ones. Haines remains to take the helm on “Sentimental X’s,” and songs like “Texico Bitches” and “Water In Hell” find the band more rollicking than ever, almost in bar-band mode. Forgiveness Rock Record opens with “World Sick,” a track so exaggeratedly wistful that it could’ve been on any of Broken Social Scene’s records to date.
Essentially, Forgiveness Rock Record finds Broken Social Scene trading “big and loud” for “wide and warm” and as a result sounding like they’ve really just settled further into their identity as a band. Sure, it’s easy to miss the sound of 2005’s Broken Social Scene at first, but the truth is that bands don’t need to make the same music they did several years ago, and we don’t really need to hear it as listeners, either.