Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
This is it? This is the great revolution? This is what topped the critics’ charts, inspired a million rapturous articles and blog posts and personal testimonies? This? This rancid stew of sour indie self-regard, the disingenuous assurance that no, now we’re making pop music (so for once it’ll be good, lol)? I realize that one cannot actually hold Broken Social Scene accountable for the comments of others, but anyone who referred to this as some sort of pop masterpiece has hopefully listened to the radio in the interim.
You Forgot It In People is yet more proof that the band-as-committee will probably never work, and so unsurprisingly there is exactly one great song on it, and that song barely got mentioned by the various commentators. The slo-mo drawl of “Lover’s Spit”, although terribly in hock to Bowie’s Berlin period, at least attains a level of shattered grandeur that eludes the rest of the album. It also, tellingly, doesn’t avoid being what it is, which is the very indiest of indie. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with indie music, and if that’s all you listen to then yes, this or the Arcade Fire probably sounds as catchy as all get out – but to the average person out there who doesn’t (for example) read Stylus, this still sounds like every other hotly tipped mess that most people don’t like, not because we privileged few have “better” “taste” or something equally smug, but just because most people are bored by this sort of music. It is not a badge of superiority or mark of inferiority to feel differently. But it would certainly be easier for others to tolerate if this was actually any good.
I will start with the grudging respect: in addition to “Lover’s Spit” there are a few decent songs on this album. “Almost Crimes” is generic indie howl, but it’s very well done; there’s very little to say about it, but it’s pleasant. Would that the rest of You Forgot It In People follow that blueprint. “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl”, yes, it shouldn’t work, structurally it’s a mess, if you get to it in the wrong mood it sounds aimless and boring, but if you’ve got the right starry-eyed glow of romantic nostalgia cloaking your senses, yes, it hits you. And “Cause=Time” is so terminally laid back that it can just smoothly glide through your ears. It’s impossible to dislike something so inoffensive.
So, a decent little EP. If only. Why is it weighted down with the aimless swirl of “Looks Just Like The Sun” and “I’m Still Your Fag” (yes, very controversial, how brave of you, etc, etc)? Why are songs as featureless and bland as “Shampoo Suicide”, “KC Accidental” and “Stars And Sons” even here? “Pacific Theme” is over five minutes long. There is no justification on earth for that, or for opening the album with “Capture the Flag.”
Look, I’m more than willing to accept that the legions of fans of this album (including some people I quite like and respect) are simply hearing something I don’t. Fine. We all have albums like that. But admit it: You Forgot It In People flits around as if it’s got the attention span of a fruit fly, never settling on any aesthetic except boring guitar noise. Note “Lover’s Spit” again – see how early and how sharply it establishes atmosphere. Note how most of the songs could have been recorded in the frigid vacuum of space for all the atmosphere they have.
You’ll note the smugness in the band during interviews, about how after all the “art-rock” the various members had made “the whole ideology of trying to write an actual four-minute pop song was completely new to so many of us.” Well, you can tell: they are very bad at it. It tries to keep the preciousness of arty indie rock but somehow create good pop; this is not impossible, but when you see an example like this that bungles it so badly, it seems like it might be. Broken Social Scene wanted their cake and to eat it too, and while trying all this they forgot about the oven and burned down the kitchen. They tried to straddle the gap and fell right in.
Hyperbole, you say, but I didn’t see you complaining about the positive hyperbole when this came out (OMG it’s the best thing ever, rock music is saved!). Out of all the albums from the last few years to lionize, picking this one only proves how insular this community really is. If you love it and it changed your life or something, hey, fantastic. I’m genuinely happy for you, just as I would be if you felt the same way about, say, Justified or Get Away From Me or, hell, London Calling. But don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining.
By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2005-03-08