Music

Sloan: Pretty Together

Robert Jamieson

Sloan

Pretty Together

Label: BMG
US Release Date: 2002-04-09
UK Release Date: 2002-02-04
Amazon
iTunes

The Canadian quartet Sloan has always fashioned itself after the democracy within the Beatles. In both bands, all four distinct members contribute to the songwriting. But also like the Beatles, there has been a dominance of two of the band members, at minimum in the choice of singles/videos released (though all four usually contribute an equal number of songs to each album. Imagine if Ringo had written a quarter of the Fab Four's output). Bassist/vocalist Chris Murphy and guitarist/vocalist Patrick Pentland have always been at the forefront of the band, the latter having the leadoff single from each of the last three studio albums. The two are responsible for the more anthem-like powerpop melodies and rock songs on their albums. Guitarist/vocalist Jay Ferguson contributes the dreamier, melodic songs, while drummer/vocalist Andrew Scott adds ones that are usually more unusual and sparse, many with the shifts and time-changes you might expect from a songwriting drummer.

The Beatles' influence may be obvious, but so also is the love of all things pop from the '60s and '70s. Their fourth album Navy Blues was a veritable ode to 1970's rock, from Iggy to AC/DC, from the Rolling Stones to Aerosmith, and especially Kiss. This Kiss influence is most apparent in the songwriting, if not the attitude, and the new album is no exception. Pretty Together leads off with what is also the first single, "If It Feels Good Do It", which betrays this influence. Even more obvious is the Murphy penned "Pick It Up and Dial It", a song that recognizes the almost death like rattle of what is left of "rock" today. 1970s influences aside, there are some other things going on this album unlike any previous Sloan release.

Lyrically, many of the songs show another, more introspective side, a (gasp) maturity that had until now not been so obvious or prevalent. In songs like "The Other Man", "I Love a Long Goodbye", " Who You Talkin' To?", and "The Great Wall" has its writers looking inward, and it isn't always pretty. Even the deceptively titled (and sounding) "If It Feels Good Do It" is a break-up song, hidden in power chords. Sonically, the music is well crafted no matter what form it takes, from bombastic rock majesty to delicate horn or string laced pop. The intricate vocal harmonies are still there, as is the almost disarming drumming style of Scott.

The more mature sound may have something to do with the recording process of this album. This is the first they gave themselves no time constraints. Sloan had put out two studio albums and a live album in the course of two years (all the while extensively touring), and the break that followed was obviously rejuvenating, both personally and musically. Over the years, they have been able to create an autonomous unit, releasing their last few albums on their own murderrecords label, with distribution deals through other companies. Pretty Together was also recorded with no record label deal (or involvement). The album was released in October in Canada (by BMG Canada) and will be released in the US and Europe in April (through a new deal with RCA).

The real beauty of Pretty Together is in the quiet songs. In "Who You Talkin' To?" Jay Ferguson sings about the brotherhood of outsiders against those who would exclude them, and in "Are You Giving Me Back My Love?", the uncertainty of love. But it is in pair of Chris Murphy compositions "The Other Man" and "The Life of a Working Girl" that really stand out on this record. The first is a mid-tempo jangly guitar, bass driven song that positions the singer, as the third person in a love triangle. Or is he? "He knows that I'm a friend of yours / But doesn't know I've crossed the line" certainly adds credence to this, but the final line betrays that this all might be the singer's fantasy.

"The Life of a Working Girl" is just that, a melancholy ("Does she get lonely like I do / If I could only see her all the time") examination of a woman consumed by the workaday world. Her examiner sings of her ambition, but "I can carbon date her age, she's not keen to / It's a trap, a door / In the stage she can go through / Until the encore". Murphy sings in a very plaintive tone, with only acoustic guitar and droning organ as accompaniment.

Sloan does what it does best, once again filling a unique niche in the world of pop as excavators and celebrators. Although some songs do not shine as bright as others, every song is catchy and sticks with you until the next one comes along. But this new album is a step forward from their tried and true formula and points to a broadening of tastes and possibilities for the group. Sloan may still be little more than a cult band outside of Canada, but perhaps with a little more exposure, the rest of the world can see what they've been missing. It just might be the right time. As "Pick It Up and Dial" asks, "They say rock and roll is dead again / You tell me if it's true". Sloan has shown us (once again) that it absolutely is not.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image