“It’s a very confusing time for musicians,” Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning told The Skinny late last year in the bowels of Glasgow’s Arches. There to play with his BSS buddy Kevin Drew, then promoting his first solo album, Canning had to do Drew’s press while the main man was away dealing with unforeseen equipment problems. It was a confusing time for fans too, who wondered what the prefix to Drew’s record, ‘Broken Social Scene presents…’, meant for the future of the Canadian indie collective. But in answering the 'In Rainbows Model' question, which was legally obligatory for interviewers to ask at the time, Canning wrestled with an issue he would have to properly deal with himself in the summer of 2008.
After Canning’s first solo album, Something For All Of Us, was leaked a month ahead of its US release in May 2008, he decided to try to wrestle control of his music back by immediately releasing a fully mastered version for digital sale. Back in October, he told us: “You're not going to get mainstream radio support, so having music downloaded is an essential way to get your music heard and spread a fan base. We would not be in the position that we're in without that. But then you look at someone’s record collection and there's so many burned discs you think 'do they ever spend any money on records?’ They said 'home taping is killing the music business', but of course I made mix-tapes as a kid.”
And there’s no immediate danger of Broken Social Scene finishing, despite the increasing focus on solo records. It’s like the Wu-Tang Clan brand system, where everyone in the group helps each other out with their solo endeavours, without losing sight of the appeal of the central project. But the BSS project's membership has never been set in stone: Canning estimates an enrollment "in the 20s". “Kevin made a record where the trio was Kevin, Charles Spearin, and Ohad Benchetrit, but everyone in Broken Social Scene was involved. And when we're going out to tour the show, we're playing songs from that record and also Broken Social Scene songs. When we started this band in 2001, we had many different incarnations of the band who would put on different shows as members were in or out. There are people on my record who weren't involved in Broken Social Scene before, but I like to work with them. This is just the next phase of whatever being in a band is all about.”
But does it sound like BSS? Something For All Of Us is full of overdriven guitar, but not too loud – the overdrive is quiet enough to leave a fuzzy, ambient shadow. “I just want to continue to make music with my bandmates” he told me at the Arches, but it appears at times that this professional sense of duty is the only motivation for the record's existence. Artistic compulsion is a much healthier spur, but so much here is lacking spark that Canning must’ve included everything he’s got. Better songwriters would have discarded or worked harder to give meaning to, for example, the title track hook - "Everyone’s talking ‘bout something for all of us" - which frankly means absolutely nothing. If the title is supposed to indicate an appeal to universality, then it only achieves that in the sense that lots of people like bland music. Unfortunately, Something For All Of Us contains very little for any of us.