Sloan: Commonwealth (Murderecords)
Veteran Canadian’s Sloan try a one side per member approach on their new record with mixed results say Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne.
Canadian Power-pop outfit Sloan finally return with a new album , 3 years after the excellent The Double Cross that marked the 20th anniversary of the band. Despite consistently good albums and a couple of hits in their home country, they have never really managed to gain mainstream success. Commonwealth has the particularity of being a double LP (for its vinyl version) with each side featuring songs by one member. The band didn’t record their songs completely separately but more in a kind of “White Album” way where each member contributed to the other one’s song if they were needed. The only issue with the sequencing of the album is that if one of the members songwriting skills have momentarily deserted him you get to sit through 4 or 5 average songs in a row and unfortunately that’s what happens on Commonwealth.
Things start really well with 5 excellent numbers by guitarist Jay Ferguson that could pass for lost tracks from an unreleased Emitt Rhodes album. Ferguson with his honey voice trades his usual melodic song craft with gusto. Whether it’s the beautiful ballad Three Sisters (with some tasty Mccartney-esque bass lines courtesy of Chris Murphy maybe ?) or the punchy Cleopatra, Ferguson simply kicks ass. The second side is devoted to Chris Murphy’s songs, the most prolific member of the band. Though not as good as Ferguson’s contribution, his songs are still good and feature some nice arrangements. He seems to rely a bit more on a catchy chorus to make the song memorable (Carried Away, Misty’s Beside Herself). Then here comes the big letdown, Patrick Pentland’s side… Coming from the writer of so many of Sloan’s hits (Money City Maniacs, Unkind, The Good In Everyone), his 4 numbers are one hell of a disappointment. The first two songs 13 (Under a Bad Sign) and Take It Easy are just riffage with no tunes and What’s Inside is a dirge that drags along for nearly 4 minutes with no tune, no hooks, no nothing. Keep Swinging (Downtown) is ok but it sounds like an inferior Money City Maniacs. After that painful 4 songs comes the contribution of drummer Andrew Scott. Probably the most ambitious in its presentation, his songs are presented in an almost 18 minutes suite reminiscent of the bands 2006’s Never Hear The End Of It. It’s the best side of the album after Ferguson’s one and closes the album on a good note. Commonwealth is a good album that unfortunately suffers from its sequencing. If Murphy and Ferguson’s contributions had been spread over the full album, the listening experience would have been vastly improved instead of the peak and valley’s effect you get while listening to the album.