Back in 1996 I got my copy of One Chord to Another and thought it was pretty cool, but frankly I was a bit distracted. I didn’t give it the worship it deserved. Reviewing it now I can better appreciate how this band had it all going on – great sound, solid hooks, and a palpable authenticity. How did Nova Scotia produce such a monster act? Their first EP Peppermint and full length album Smeared had a great indie sound, with both versions of “Underwhelmed” worth hitting repeat on. But their first major label effort, 1994’s Twice Removed, announced the arrival of a polished and original musical force, with “Penpals” a great weird single. Then they turned around and dumped their major label (Geffen) and turned out another great record, 1996’s One Chord to Another, spending one-tenth the budget of the previous one. While the album is bursting with great tracks, I’m partial to the very Beatle-esque “The Lines You Amend.” Talk was, Sloan would be the next big thing worldwide. But things didn’t really pan out that way.
Earlier this month I saw Sloan play One Chord to Another in its entirety at the Phoenix in Toronto as part of 20th anniversary tour commemorating the album. The show was broken into two sets, with the first blasting through OCTA and the second drawing from their other ten albums. Despite owning three of their records, I couldn’t name a single tune, though their audience was pretty well informed, drowning out the band on a few sing-a-longs. After such an amazing show, I decided to school myself on all things Sloan. Was this a band just reliving the glory of a few early records? After reviewing their catalogue, I can honestly say ‘no’. If anything, Sloan’s records only improve over time as the band expands its sonic range and songwriting scope. And that is saying something because those early records – Smeared, Twice Removed, One Chord to Another, Navy Blues – showcase the signature early sound of Sloan where the vocals and guitars slide together into a great sonic mash of hook-laden tunes. But, I will have you believe, their later material is even better.
Things begin to change up on the 1999 EP Hit and Run with the nice acoustic-y number, “Midnight Mass,” with its simple and endearing piano riff. The band continued to explore new lines of musical enquiry on albums like 1999’s Between the Bridges with “Losing California,” and 2001’s Pretty Together featuring “If It Feels Good Do It” and “The Other Man.” 2004’s Action Pact upped the guitar muscle but still had surprises like “The Rest of My Life,” as did 2011’s Double Cross with “Shadows of Love” and “Unkind.” 2008’s Parallel Play had the outstanding single “Believe in Me” with its nice crunchy guitar and organ lead lines.Both 2006’s Never Hear the End of It and 2014’s Commonwealth are minor masterpieces, showcasing a band in complete control of its creative development. As all four songwriters contribute great material to these efforts, it seems churlish to single out just a few songs. Nevertheless, Never Hear the End of It has “Everybody Wants You,” the lovely dreamy “Listen to the Radio,” the rock out “I Can’t Sleep,” and the wistful “Someone I Can be True With,” while Commonwealth has “You’ve Got a Lot on Your Mind,” “Cleopatra” (with a neat piano solo), and the imaginative “Carried Away” with its great harmonic changes. And there were a few super stand-alone singles, like 2009’s “Get Out of Your Bed,” with its delightful overlapping vocals and topical lyrics like ‘help yourself to some of their wealth’.
Everybody Wants YouListen to the RadioCleopatraCarried AwayGet Out of Your Bed
So the bottom line is, believe the hype. Sloan are a great big load of talent. They exemplify the rock and roll form: four guys, all songwriters, all multi-instrumentalists, all dripping something authentic artistically, without the arrogance and pretention that often goes along with the package. I’m really fascinated to see what they come up with next.
Find Sloan and all their music and tour dates online.