Moving on with our CFL Soundtrack series of previews, here's a look at the Montreal Alouettes, a talented collective with many revolving pieces but general manager Jim Popp at the centre, similar to Broken Social Scene founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. (Warning: some Broken Social Scene lyrics may be objectionable to some. Check them out at your own risk.)
The comparison of the Montreal Alouettes to Canadian rockers Broken Social Scene seems to fit on many levels. For all the success Broken Social Scene has had, what's perhaps most notable about the band is their constantly-revolving cast of contributors, most of whom have other regular projects (in fact, that's led to the joke that Broken Social Scene is more of a marketing collective than a band). Similarly, the Alouettes turned over almost their entire coaching staff this offseason after head coach Marc Trestman left for the Chicago Bears and took several assistants with him, leading to a Last Supperesque photo of the new staff that's quite similar to the group photos of Broken Social Scene.
Of course, even a rotating collective needs some consistent pieces. In Broken Social Scene, that's usually been co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, who have been there from the start. WIth the Alouettes, that's general manager Jim Popp, who's been there before the start: he began his tenure with the franchise as the director of player personnel while they were still in Baltimore in 1994, two years before the team moved to Montreal and appointed him GM. Popp's given the franchise tremendous stability and a remarkable run at the top of the CFL thanks to his skillful drafting, finds of underrated CFL veterans (such as legendary quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who struggled in Las Vegas and Hamilton before Popp brought him in), acquisition of depth pieces who turned into much more (such as running backs Avon Cobourne and Brandon Whitaker) and ability to keep a strong core of players around. The Montreal staff may look much different this year, but as with Drew, Canning and Broken Social Scene, Popp's presence maintains some crucial continuity.
2010's Forgiveness Rock Record was Broken Social Scene's first #1 album in Canada.For all their prominence on the Canadian and international music scene and their unquestionable influence on the rise of many indie acts, though, Broken Social Scene hasn't quite been a consistent chart-topping success. However, that's changed recently, with more and more discovering them as time has gone on. Their first two albums didn't chart anywhere. Their third studio album, 2005's self-titled effort, did well in Ireland and the United Kingdom and okay in the U.S., but failed to chart in Canada; it did eventually receive gold certification thanks to people catching onto them, though. After a pair of "Broken Social Scene presents" albums that spotlighted more individual work from Drew and Canning, it was 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record that really paid off for the band, reaching the top of the Canadian charts and hitting #34 in the U.S., #58 in Ireland and #67 in the United Kingdom.
Similarly, Popp's early efforts with the Alouettes were critically appreciated, especially the team's year-in, year-out consistency. However, the famed 2002 Grey Cup team was the only one to claim the CFL's ultimate prize until Montreal went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. Those victories really turned Popp's Alouettes into an overall CFL dynasty, and they helped take appreciation of them to a much wider level. Despite his superlative record, many who didn't get the small-sample-size nature of playoffs often questioned if Popp's teams could win the big games before 2009, and they often denigrated quarterback Anthony Calvillo for his single ring. Following the Alouettes' back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010 (and they weren't all that far away in 2011 or 2012, either, suffering a pair of close playoff upsets) and Calvillo becoming professional football's all-time leading passer, recognition of what Montreal's accomplished has become much more prominent.
Both Broken Social Scene and the Alouettes have questions about their future, but neither seems entirely done just yet. The band went on indefinite hiatus at the end of 2011, allowing members to focus on their individual projects, and for a while, it looked like the band might be relegated to the dustbin of history. However, they reunited this month for an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and then a Toronto concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Arts and Crafts label, performing a show there that "represented the band at their absolute best." They're back on hiatus now, but they've shown that they can still get together and deliver a blistering concert when they want to. Along those lines, Montreal's current era may be drawing to a close, as Trestman's left and Calvillo turns 41 in August, but if the team can adapt to Hawkins, there's still more than enough talent here for an amazing run this year and perhaps more in years to come.
It can take time to pull a team together under a new coach, though, just like it can take time to bring a group with so many other prominent outside projects back together. The Broken Social Scene reunion this month was announced back in January, but the band didn't appear together until June. Similarly, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Alouettes get off to a bit of a slow start, as long-time NCAA coach Hawkins is not only adjusting to the CFL, but is also readjusting to coaching after working as an ESPN college football analyst since the end of 2010. That makes him a risky hire, but the comments he's made about studying the CFL and adapting his style to this league seem quite positive and could make this all work out very well in the end, especially when you consider the amount of talent he's got to work with. Between Brandon Whitaker, Jerome Messam, Chris Jennings, Noel Devine, Steven Lumbala and more, the Alouettes have what looks like the deepest group of running backs in the league, and with the acquisition of Arland Bruce, they now have another top receiver to add to the group of Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green, Brandon London and Eric Deslauriers. They've also upgraded the defence with top veterans like Byron Parker and Ejiro Kuale. It may take the Alouettes time to gel, but once they do, the end result could be as pleasant as water in hell:
Prediction: 10-8, second in East, win in East semi-final, win in East final, loss in Grey Cup