Listening for literal meaning in Broken Social Scene's music is often beside the point. The clearest-sounding vocal on its 2005 CD is built on the refrain "If you always get up late, you'll never be on time." Better to give in to the happy, driving beat and the singer's sharp, feminine coolness. Close listening or lyric-Googling reveals a darkness in other songs. On "Lover's Spit," the spare sound leaves the singer (a man on a 2002 album version, a woman on a rarities collection) at the center, singing such literally confusing but poetically clear lyrics as "They listen to teeth to learn how to quit," evoking lonely dread after too many temporary encounters. Most often, the sound's emotions overwhelm the lyrics. "It's All Gonna Break," the latest album's closer, starts with vulgar anger you might miss because the song sounds so joyous. It's over-the-top climactic, so bombastic they can't be serious, but still great, ten minutes of pure thrill.
Since I haven't seen Broken Social Scene live, I'm curious how clearly their humor comes across onstage. It's most obvious in the videos on their website, such as the one for "7/4 (Shoreline)," a song built on histrionic female vocals and male accompaniment. The band members are shown in theatrical half shadow, and the two vocalists sing to each other as in a cheesy 1970s duet, then pumping their hands in the air, totally aware of how much they're overdoing it.
Broken Social Scene headlines a show at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, November 11.