Wednesday, June 30, 2004

42. Sloan - Action Pact (2004)

On paper Sloan are a band that could be a prime candidate for obsessive attention. They're 4 slightly out-of-touch Canadians who make strongly melodic, immaculately performed pop music. Three members share both vocals and songwriting duties, and as a result they're fairly prolific. All of these factors create the perfect conditions for cult status.

Their 5th album, 1999's Between The Bridges, came and went from my CD collection. Despite that I bought their next one, Pretty Together, because of good reviews and because while visiting a friend I noticed they had Sloan stickers (full body photos of the band members) on their fridge. I decided that any band that could inspire such devotion (in both the creation and the display of those stickers) deserved a second chance.

Pretty Together certainly deserved the first word of its title, but the power in the power pop equation was seriously lacking. The tunes had more ponder than power.

Now comes their new album Action Pact, whose title and cover (featuring the 4 members superimposed on one another, all in prime rawk positions) are immediately promising for those like me lamenting the lack of rock on the previous album. And boy do the band deliver on that promise! There's not one single ballad among these 14 songs.

Instead, tunes like Gimmie That, Backstabbin', and Hollow Head with their buzzing guitar riffs, spotlight solos, and pounding drums come dangerously close to being rock-for-rock's-sake. It's a precarious situation for an intelligent band; no one ever accused head-bangers of having substance. Thankfully, further spins reveal the heart beating strong beneath.

Like they say, you can take the band out of pop but you can't take the pop out of the band. Sloan's knack for creating instantly memorable hooks is in full force here; a couple of listens and you'll find your brain engaged in a war over which song will get stuck longer. Another true-color-revealer is the band's harmonies, which they have used generously in the past and sure don't skimp on here, and thank goodness! It really takes the rock sound to the next level.

Finally, the lyrics are a few steps above your typical rock junk ("you look so fine that I really wanna make you mine" and the like). While nothing is as lyrically outstanding as The Other Man from Pretty Together (which took the point of view of someone involved in an affair) take a look at the opening verse of Live On: "You're coming on way too strong / A force gale in stormy weather / A cold wave crashing on / Across the ocean building pressure." It's a metaphor Ben Gibbard would be proud of.

There are two bonus tracks. Often I find bonus tracks to be anything but bonus, as they ruin the flow of the album as it was originally intended. In this case, Fade Away would have been a perfect album ender. But Will You Ever Love Me Again is a fine, seamless addition, and Step On It, Jean is a lightning fast glam-rocker that proves - if you didn't already know - that Sloan would have been much happier living in the '70s.

Overall, an addictive effort from a band that seems intent on keeping us guessing. My only regret in enjoying this album so much is that now I've got to go seek out the rest of their back catalog. So goes the pop life.

Rating: A-
Fave Song: I Was Wrong

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