Broken Social Scene’s return has had a lot of hype surrounding it; finally returning to full form this year following their last release 7 whole years ago, they’ve got a lot to live up with Hug Of Thunder. This is a band star-studded in this history, almost synonymous with Canada’s music scene – Metric, Stars, and Feist are just a few names associated with the collective. They’re thus renowned for reaching high in their records, almost similar to worship music in their anthemic execution.
With this in mind, Hug of Thunder immediately punches at a weight suited to the band’s past; lead single ‘Halfway Home’ is typical Broken Social Scene fare, with most-part lead singer Kevin Drew bending his voice over a soaring chorus right from the get-go. The usual trimmings are all there – stabbing trumpets à la ‘7/4 Shoreline’, echoing gang vocals and a huge wall of guitar noise all play their parts across the board. However, as much as it pains me to say it, the album often gets lost in itself. ‘Protest Song’ seems kinda try-hard with Emily Haines’ climbing and chock-full choruses, and ‘Skyline’’s bouncy melody over jangly guitars is overly earnest. They’re not bad songs, but pale in comparison to the band’s previous efforts; the flow isn’t as obvious as Broken Social Scene, and the record guns for constant epic vision in lieu of the highs and lows that make You Forgot It In People and Forgiveness Rock Record so fantastic.
That’s not to say this isn’t a good record, though. Title track ‘Hug of Thunder’ is, as typical of Leslie Feist’s performances, amazing – her deliverance of lyrics like “How could I say at what point I would gain perspective, let alone know I had it?” over Brendan Canning’s lilting bassline is as powerful as any ‘Lover’s Spit’ or ‘Swimmers’, if not more. Alongside it ‘Stay Happy’, sung by newcomer Ariel Engle, is a fuzz-laden and booming addition to the record’s lineup, making full use of the band’s brass capabilities. The second half of Hug Of Thunder as a whole is a cut above the rest, and lets the album’s message really shine through; positivity and perseverance in the face of an ever-scarier and more invasive modern life, sweltered out in closers ‘Gonna Get Better’ and ‘Mouth Guards of the Apocalpyse’.
I saw Broken Social Scene introduce these songs live in Manchester the night after the 22/05 bombings. Kevin Drew talked to a full Albert Hall about moving forward through fear, something I would have felt cliché any other time – right then, it was exactly what the room needed to hear. That show was ridiculously moving for me, and Hug Of Thunder carries that with it regardless of its shortcomings. It may not stand up to the band’s previous releases, but it’s a fine as hell album for this year.By Jowan Mead