We look through the varied and vivacious 20-year discography of Sloan album by album, charting this underrated group’s significant achievements.
Sloan’s first album, Smeared, was released in 1992 on major label powerhouse DGC Records. Though it owes a lot to the music of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, it’s overall sweeter, less serious, and more memorable than anything by either group. It’s the only Sloan studio LP that doesn’t clearly feature all four members on the cover and it’s the only one whose production sounds dated, even on the five-or-so standouts, a couple of which still hold their ground in Sloan’s live set. Smeared is certainly not a bad album, but hindsight shows that their subsequent ones would all be improvements over it.
Key Tracks: “Underwhelmed”, “I Am the Cancer”, “Median Strip”, “500 Up”, “Sugartune”, “Two Seater”.
1994 marked the year of Sloan’s sophomore release, Twice Removed, an album that found the band gaining ten years of musical maturity in just two. The production is superior to Smeared in terms of clarity; each member’s instrument is a distinct color in the mix. The production also brings a sense of timelessness, as the vocals aren’t hiding behind any effects, and distortion is used in the right spots, instead of blanketing everything. But more importantly, Sloan’s songwriting talent greatly improved, too. The band decided to let classic pop structure fully run the show, essentially filling a role that was only previously occupied part-time. Twice Removed established the classic Sloan sound: hooky, jangly, crunchy, and smart. It remains one of their most beloved albums, though there are far better ones.
Key Tracks: “Penpals”, “I Hate My Generation”, “Coax Me”, “Bells On”, “Snowsuit Sound”, “I Can Feel It”.
One Chord to Another
After poor promotion for Twice Removed led to commercial failure, Sloan abandoned its DCG contract with no intention of continuing as a band. But in a twist of fate, Sloan rose from the major-label ashes and independently delivered its phenomenal third album, 1996’s One Chord to Another. Not only were the boys back in town, but they also were running it. One Chord to Anotheris a crisp ropes course of rock music, merging the psychedelic brand of mid-to-late sixties pop and raw seventies punk in a way that has been unmatched since. With intellectually satisfying guitar leads, maracas, horns, tack pianos, perfectly dry-sounding drums, masterful bass lines, and 12 songs that each could’ve been a single, One Chord to Another is not only one of Sloan’s best albums, it’s unequivocally one of the top five albums that anyone released in that entire decade.
Key Tracks: “Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay”, “Autobiography”, “G Turns to D”, “Everything You’ve Done Wrong”, “Anyone Who’s Anyone”, “Can’t Face Up”.
With 1998’s Navy Blues, Sloan combined the production values of Twice Removed with One Chord to Another‘s confident songwriting and added the heaviness of classic hard rock bands to make the biggest-sounding—and arguably best produced—record of their career. The songs are more anthemic than ever, but also more complex in structure. Zeppelin-esque is a good way to describe Navy Blues’ hard rock swagger mixed with eclectic layered textures, although that doesn’t do its brilliant pop melodies justice. Led Hollies, perhaps.
Key Tracks: “She Says What She Means”, “C’mon C’mon (We’re Gonna Get It Started)”, “Sinking Ships”, “Keep on Thinkin’”, “Money City Maniacs”, “Suppose They Close the Door”.
Between the Bridges
In 1999, just one year after they released Navy Blues, Sloan unleashed Between the Bridges, the most evenly-divided album in the band’s career: 12 songs, three by each member. Featuring Sloan’s first foray into weaving songs together without separation, Between the Bridges also brings the band closer into the influence of mid-to-late ‘70s rock and pop, even tastefully dabbling in disco and country on occasion. It’s one of the most dynamic Sloan releases as well, featuring their hardest-rocking guitar songs alongside some of their softest piano-driven numbers. Though some tracks are definitely better than others, none of them warrant the skip button. Bottom line: Between the Bridges is one of Sloan’s career best.
Key Tracks: “The N.S.”, “Don’t You Believe a Word”, “All by Ourselves”, “Losing California”, “The Marquee and the Moon”, “Delivering Maybes”.
Pretty Together is Sloan’s sixth album and their first of the 21st century, 2001 specifically. Though not a “classic” due to its often syrupy production and the inclusion of some forgettable songs, the album is still essential for a handful of quality tracks, a few of which rank among Sloan’s all-time best. And to Sloan’s credit, Pretty Together shows significant growth in the diversity and maturity of their sound. It’s here that we get some of the band’s most truly delicate and heartfelt songs, ones that primarily consist of lightly-strummed guitar and not much else, ones with honest, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics, and ones with poignant arrangements. When these elements, separately or together, are at the forefront, the album is more than worthy of its title.
Key Tracks: “If It Feels Good Do It”, “The Other Man”, “The Life of a Working Girl”, “It’s in Your Eyes”, “I Love a Long Goodbye”, “Are You Giving Me Back My Love?”
By 2003, Sloan had still not found success in the US. In an attempt to change their luck, the band swung for the mainstream fences by enlisting producer Tom Rothrock and giving him the authority to choose from their new batch of songs and sequence them in whatever order he felt would yield in the most cohesive album possible. The result was Action Pact, which, as Sloan had hoped for, became their most streamlined release, the first where, sonically, their sound resembled a brand-new blanket instead of their familiar patchwork quilt. With nary an acoustic guitar or piano in sight, Sloan and Rothrock whipped up a batch of 12 no-frills rock songs, using the less-is-more formula of bands like KISS, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, and even the Smiths. While Sloan does the whole thing with more grace and pop flair than any of those bands, it didn’t catch on like they had hoped. And though it contains a fair share of Sloan classics, the whole thing is brought down a peg by the wildly uneven distribution amongst the members, with Chris and Patrick contributing five each, Jay putting up two, and Andrew delivering none—the first and only no-show on a Sloan album. It’s a cool album, but it’s not representative of Sloan’s democratic and eclectic beauty.
Key Tracks: “Gimme That”, “Backstabbin’”, “The Rest of My Life”, “False Alarm”, “Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore”, “Ready for You”.
Never Hear the End of It
(murderecords/Yep Roc/Sony BMG Canada)
Never Hear the End of It
Few music-makers are more acutely aware of their career arc than Sloan. That’s why after the slick, arena-friendly Action Pact and a 2005 Greatest Hits collection, the band knew it had to ditch its radio confections for a delicious vinyl crate stew. Enter 2006’s masterpiece of a double album, Never Hear the End of It. Of its 30 songs, there is not a single bad one; all four members contributed strictly prime cuts. The entire thing is filled with intricate arrangements, both musically and vocally. It’s got their most perfect pop yet. It’s got timeless highbrow rock. It’s got punk. It’s got short song vignettes, complex epics, ballads, garage rockers, mod swingers, huge sing-alongs, and incisive lyrics. The production is varied and confident. And the whole album is diverse enough to keep your attention from song to song as a result of its well-thought-out sequencing. It’s an album for people who love music in a deep way, like The White Album if the Beatles actually liked each other when they were making it and didn’t give “Revolution 9” the green light. You eventually will hear the end of it, but you’ll just want to start it up again.
Key Tracks: “Flying High Again”, “Who Taught You to Live Like That?”, “I’ve Gotta Try”, “Everybody Wants You”, “Fading into Obscurity”, “Someone I Can Be True With”, “Right or Wrong”, “Blackout”, “I Understand”, “Can’t You Figure It Out?”, “Ill Placed Trust”, “Living with the Masses”, “Last Time in Love”, “It’s Not the End of the World”, “Another Way I Could Do It”.
// Notes from the Road
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