My Dad, upon seeing Broken Social Scene perform on The Late Show with David Letterman, asked me why they had so many guitarists. Peak Broken Social Scene was as much a gang as it was a band with its expansive membership and rotating lineup. I had no good answer to the question. It was just part of the band’s identity. They loved 90s style guitar licks, and they loved playing four of them at the same time.
Kevin Drew without Broken Social Scene is still a good artist. We’ve known this since Spirit If… in 2007. But on his 2nd solo album, Darlings, I began to miss each and every one of those 19 rhythm guitarists. Without the creativity of an army bidding to contribute to a song, there are times when Drew’s songs lay fallow.
The sense that everyone is just letting loose and jamming was integral to Broken Social Scene’s success because it added a lively unpredictable tension. Darlings feels lonely in that regard, with a lot of songs in the same mid-tempo speed that never dips too low or climbs too high. At its lowest, the albumfeels like a steady and slow monorail ride without any juking turns. “Mexican Aftershow Party” is one example that exists as a straight line, hanging in the air before it simply evaporates. Not much is expressed and not much really matters.
The difference with Spirit If… is that I never got the impression that Drew was just letting a tune coast. Too often a song lays down a mid-tempo beat and it’s as if someone said “Cool, just do that for 4 minutes.”
Despite all the meandering, there are enough times where that’s the spot-on perfect choice for the song’s mood or subject. Most of these come in the back end: “You in Your Were” is precisely the song you want to sad-dance to in concert, with an oscillating synth and far off strings that inject hope into lyrics that accuse and declare. Album ender “And That’s All I Know” is not just the album’s best, but one of Kevin Drew’s best. Whenever the piano loops back around to land on its home note, it lands with weight to complement Drew’s heavy-hearted singing. The second half of the album figures out how to get the most of this mode, and that alone makes Darlings worth repeated listens.
There’s also a lot of sex. Drew’s made it his mission to bring gravity and emotion to all kinds of sex acts, and here more than ever he really bears down on it. He’s made it into his strength, becoming the premiere indie rock songwriter of masturbation romances, gang bang suicides and pornographic love songs.
The fact that it never evokes a giggle or comes off as tackily on-the-nose is a result of his talent with implication. His lyrics continue to be obscure and opaque, utilizing only a few clear lines to hook listeners to the big overarching themes. You may not have the personal frame of reference to parse out meaning from “I got the lizard eyes, like a surgical dying gift,” but what matters is you feel the somber finality when he hits the final refrain – “Now that’s all I know” – and the piano takes us home.
He finds the right deposits of romance to draw from when trying to build up a mythology of sexual enlightenment. The single “Good Sex” is practically a manifesto that tells us “Good sex never makes you feel hollow,” but it’s when he wails in the break down, “I’m still breathing with you,” that it clicks even for squares. Suddenly “Good Sex” is about communion of love and not a Lonely Island song without punchlines.
Kevin Drew never fails to pull off this hat trick in his words. There’s all kinds of pain and love in Darlings, but I just wish it was consistently urgent in its desire to tell us about it.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.