With Forgiveness Rock Record, Broken Social Scene concede that adulting is hard, relationships are even harder, and living up to expectations an impossible task, and yet, still deliver their finest album.
Sorry. As a society, we say sorry so often, so freely, that you’d think guilt and regret must be inherently ingrained in human DNA by now. But it’s the opposite. “Sorry” is now a stand-in. It means “This conversation is over,” “Stop making me feel guilty,” “You’re the one who should be sorry, not me,” or “I am asserting control in the power dynamic of our relationship.” Rarely is it ever genuinely an acknowledgement of a transgression or a request for forgiveness. We’ve overused the word “sorry” to the point that forgiveness is not something we seek so much as expect or feel we’re owed.
In 2010, no one asked for forgiveness from Broken Social Scene, but the indie-rock collective still felt it was something owed: to themselves, their community, the whole of society, and music fans in general. The early-aughts epoch spawned by their first records irrevocably changed the musical landscape for their beloved Toronto and far beyond. The calamity of being a successful and popular multi-headed collective left some internal relationships fractured. Before their 2005 eponymous third album was even cold in the record store racks, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning started plotting their own solo records (both would be released under the Broken Social Scene Presents… banner). With the ever-expanding circle of releases by the likes of BSS associates Feist, Metric, Jason Collett, and Apostle of Hustle, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Broken Social Scene had finally become the very thing their name implied. History has since taught us that the five-year gap between 2005’s Broken Social Scene and 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record was merely a blip in the band’s timeline; the year after releasing Forgiveness Rock Record, Broken Social Scene declared an official hiatus, leaving their fourth studio album to serve as both the epitaph and headstone on a decade of music they incontrovertibly helped shape.
Though it has just as many tracks and comes in at a minute shorter in running time, Forgiveness Rock Record is a far tighter affair than its predecessor. Where their self-titled album played slow and loose with the BSS signature sound, Forgiveness Rock Record rocked early and often. Opener “World Sick” is the antithesis of the band’s free-wheeling experimentalism without falling into heart-on-sleeve sentimentalism. It’s a stadium-filling anthem that sounds nervous and agitated while navigating “a minefield of crippled affection” with waves of crescendoing guitars. “World Sick” is most definitely a “song song” and not one of those loose improvs or extended jams featured on previous Broken Social Scene albums. Depending on your predilection at the time, it was also a signal that Broken Social Scene had delivered either the album you’d always hoped they would or the one you’d always feared they’d make.
Producer John McEntire (of the post-rock godfathers Tortoise and The Sea and Cake) most often gets credit for fine-tuning and honing Broken Social Scene’s sound, but it’s clear from the songs themselves that the band’s intent was always to take what made Broken Social Scene a headphone-friendly mindfuck and condense that into single-sized morsels like the stuttering jam “Forced to Love”, electronically propelled “All to All” (featuring a pristine vocal performance from Lisa Lobsinger), and the loose jangle of “Texico Bitches”.
Reviewers at the time of its release called Forgiveness Rock Record Broken Social Scene’s “mature” album but in reality, it’s a record that finds the band conceding that adulting is hard, maintaining healthy personal and professional relationships even harder, and meeting the expectations of the entire music machine — critics, consumers, and the capitalist industry — an impossible task. There are allusions to this scattered throughout the album’s lyrics, but none hiding in plain sight quite like the ones on “The Sweetest Kill”; no other song on Forgiveness Rock Record carries with it the same burden of regret or tone of remorse. The slow, sultry, and downright seductive album highlight often gets taken for a love song (more accurately a song about love that’s expired or fizzled out), but in retrospect, “The Sweetest Kill” could easily be about finding oneself on the opposite side of all that you’d work for, only to find success does not equate to happiness.
“The Sweetest Kill”, like much of Forgiveness Rock Record, is dripping with a sense of disenchantment and disillusion of the kind you feel when it becomes evident that much of what you once believed in your youth — about the word and your place in it — has been proven wrong. That’s a bitter truth to reckon with, and probably some of the hardest emotions and sentiments to set to song. But this collective is not known for shying away from such things. Broken Social Scene has never sounded as broken and contrite as they do on their unapologetically apologetic fourth album, nor have they ever sounded as vital and alive.