I didn’t miss Broken Social Scene while they were “gone”. The perpetually polite Canadian in me feels as if I need to apologize for that statement, but I can’t ask forgiveness for honesty. By the time their last album, Forgiveness Rock Record came along, it was obvious that the romantic notion of a band of friends, lovers, roommates, and exes making ambitious, anthemic music together would never be enough to sustain the collective through repeated record-release-tour-repeat cycles. If they were being honest with themselves (and they were), Broken Social Scene needed some space apart. We all did. It was all getting to be a bit much, right? What with those Broken Social Scene Presents… solo albums, the movies, books, Kevin Drew (in general). Cause = Time, indeed.
It’s fitting that by the band’s account, both personal and global events in the time between 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record and 2017’s Hug of Thunder caused Broken Social Scene to reconvene. If you have penchant for self-torture and a bottle of Tylenol handy to deal with the pain of mid-sentence tense shifts, meandering writing, and Kevin Drew quotes, you could try and make it through Ben Kaplan’s rather cloying, disjointed profile to get a sense of what prompted their return, but let me save you the hassle: the overarching inspiration for Hug of Thunder’s existence is that life is precious and short; love and friendship are free; the gang’s all together again!
And so they’re back, the band I didn’t miss while they were “gone”, with a record that is markedly better than I’d anticipated. The Leslie Feist-sung title track wraps you in its warm embrace, its layers of sound as soothing as your mother’s voice on a dark and stormy night. Though it sounds like some of the band members had their doubts, “Vanity Pail Kids” is a total blast from beginning to end. Emily Haines makes a welcome return to the BSS fold with the rousing “Protest Song”, the second (and hardest hitting) half of Hug of Thunder’s opening one-two punch. It follows “Halfway Home”, the album’s anodyne lead single, the one that sounds like standard-issue Broken Social Scene and set my bar of expectation for all of Hug of Thunder relatively low. Maybe that was the point: save the best for the big reveal. If there’s been one consistency across Broken Social Scene’s discography, it’s that the whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts. I’m spit-balling here, but beyond “Lover’s Spit”, “All to All”, and “Sweetest Kill”, BSS songs don’t generally separate themselves from their parent album to stick in my head as stand-alones; taken in context next to classic go-for-broke instrumental epics, Broken Social Scene songs do what they do best: meld their musical lines together to make one hell of a record.
The idea that Broken Social Scene is better as a whole than its composite parts also extends beyond songs to individual collective members. Well, one member in particular. That god-awful Kaplan piece from The Globe & Mail didn’t do Kevin Drew any favours. He’s already one of the most polarizing figures in the Canadian music tapestry of the last twenty years, and none-too-subtle narcissistic statements like those attributed to Drew in the profile damage and sully Broken Social Scene’s name. Madcap musician? Mastermind of arguably the most influential Canadian record label ever? Poster boy for post-rock? Kevin Drew may be all these things, but he’s also the foul-flavoured candy in a package of otherwise sweet treats that makes me hesitate to sample the rest. I don’t know Drew personally, and I try to maintain an objective appreciation of the music versus the man, but on more than one occasion, his public persona has clouded my judgment about anything that has his name attached to it. My enthusiasm for Hug of Thunder took a nosedive after that article. That’s unfortunate, because in all honesty, it’s a record I’d easily get behind.
That’s what friends (and multiple bandmates) are for I suppose—to bring balance and restore equilibrium; to remind you that life is precious and short, and that hate and vitriol take up more energy than love and letting go of the negativity. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old-age (three years Drew’s senior). It may not be the full-on embrace it could have been, but for now, I welcome this Hug of Thunder rock record with a strong handshake, warm smile, and a willingness to overlook some transgressions, if not offering full-out forgiveness.