Sloan – Commonwealth

Disclaimer Before We Begin: 

I know it’s all meant in good fun, but if we could please now refrain from the Sloan bashing that’s for the sake of trying to get a rise out of me, that would be much appreciated. It’s really not that funny anymore, and this is an important release for me. If you do have a legitimate complaint about this record, that’s fine please voice it, but if it’s just for shits and giggles, please leave it out. Thank you.

The Preamble:

Any new Sloan release is an exciting time for me. I’ve been following this band for a long time now, buying their records on release day and seeing the shows (5 times now) for years, so I would count myself as a big fan. To me, no conversation about Canadian rock is complete without adding these guys into the mix in a big way. After over twenty years doing this, they are ingrained in the fabric now, important.

This album is their 11th studio effort and, in that typically Sloan way, it has a cool concept. It’s already well-established that Sloan operates on a democracy system that’s rare in rock. They all write songs for the records, they all sing, and they’ve all played all the instruments. Such egalitarianism, while maintaining a consistent band sound that makes them instantly recognizable, makes them even more incredible.

And the cool concept this time? Well, this album was really meant to be owned on vinyl, I figure. You see, each band member wrote songs for the album, same as ever, but each gets his own side of vinyl. The double-record captures that perfectly. And each member is a King (Commonwealth, get it) in the deck of cards, they really are four of a kind. But even my CD copy plays as a coherent album. It’s all good, I just think the vinyl was the the plan, here.

Also, just to avoid repeating myself for all 15 tracks here, let me just say that that inimitable and instantly recognizable Sloan sound is in full, glorious effect. You know the one I mean. Oh yes.

OK, so are you ready? Let’s give ‘er!

The Album:

SIDE ONE: Diamond (Jay)

We’ve Come This Far is a sweet jam with a brilliant guitar line. Jay’s love of pop shines through.

You’ve Got A Lot On Your Mind picks up the pace for a great pop rocker. I loved all of this.

Three Sisters, a lovely piano-based ballad, includes a slinky bass line and those sweet harmonies that are Sloan’s bread and butter.

Cleopatra zaps the speed back up for a superb, peppy rocker. This one would be awesome in concert! Handclaps and all!

Neither Here Nor There’s gorgeous acoustic guitar perfectly anchors the lyrics. The electric adds perfect colour.

SIDE TWO: Heart (Chris)

Carried Away is typically awesome rock, dripping with Beatles done Sloan-style. This should be a single.

So Far So good slows things down, shifting sounds several times as it builds into an excellent tune all around.

Get Out kicks us back up to a gallop with a swinging, bluesy rocker.

Misty’s Beside Herself is a fun mid-tempo pop tune as only Sloan can do it. Hypnotic.

You Don’t Need Excuses To Be Good is the 70s rock Chris tune we were waiting for – yes! Another one built for radio.

SIDE THREE: Club [they call it Shamrock] (Patrick)

13 (Under A Bad Sign) is a big rocker with a menacing, buzzing guitar. Oh this is so good! The sound here is huge, and at two minutes it’s perfect.

Take It Easy picks right up where 13 (Under A Bad Sign) ended, we’re in the rawk now baby, yeah! That’s one weird feedback/effects-laden noise solo, here.

What’s Inside slows us down for a really trippy, freak-out rock excursion. On first spin, I wondered about this one, but on further spins I’ve realized big picture that it fits in just fine.

Keep Swinging (Downtown) is the first single, and it’s a full-on big guitar riff-lovin’ Sloan rocker (yes!). There are keyboard stabs and a swingin’ (get it?) beat, and a slinky organ line too. It’s a nice touch when the acoustic walks in to close the track out.

SIDE FOUR: Spade (Andrew)

Offering up one 17:49 track for his side, Andrew has written an entire album’s worth of ideas into one track! This is epic!

So much so, I’ll just verbatim copy my sense-writing notes, taken while I listened:

Forty-Eight Portraits has barking dog to drum beat piano noodling resolves to pop rock to ballad bridge to Sloan slinky rock gorgeous harmony washes to slow burner back to rock the Na na na na na’s pop horns to slow dancer blues to kids choir and out on great guitar jam line.

Whew! I really, really liked this track!

In Sum:

This is a completely ambitious, perfectly-realized Sloan record. I’ve only given it three spins, as of this posting, but I was fully sold on the first go-round. Each subsequent listen only cements this further.

INSTANT. SLOAN. CLASSIC.

46 thoughts on “Sloan – Commonwealth

  1. Becky says:

    Good old Sloan. I haven’t kept up with them since A Sides Win, for whatever reason. I’ve been hearing “You’ve Got a Lot On Your Mind” on CBC and I’ve gotta say, as much as I love Sloan, the production feels too slick for my liking. (This is by no means an attempt to get a rise out of you!) I don’t know how they recorded (how much was recorded live off the floor, how much was overdubbed) but the Sloan energy didn’t shine through on that track for me. I like the song but I’d like it even more if it sounded a bit rough around the edges. (How much of a snob do I sound like right now?!) But I’m still a Sloan fan at heart! I saw them at the Starlight in Waterloo years ago and they rocked it. Your review has me intrigued!

    Also, I’m nominating you for the One Lovely Blog Award!
    http://soundhippy.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/why-thats-a-lovely-blog-youve-got-there-more-vulfpeck/

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Wow! Thanks Becky! It’s an honour just to be nominated. I will look into the rules and nominations thing in depth tonight.

      Sloan is always worth it (of course I’m gonna say that) so of course I’d recommend checking out what they’ve been up to since 2005. I hadn’t noticed anything about the production, wasn’t really listening for it, but OH DARN now I’ll have to go back and listen to it again!

      Once again, thanks!

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  2. KamerTunesBlog (by Rich Kamerman) says:

    I just finished my second listen of Commonwealth. I’m enough of a fan to own all of their albums although I don’t know any of them well enough to have an informed discussion. I just know they’re all great songwriters, singers & musicians and every time I play one of their albums I find tons of songs to enjoy. This one is no exception, and even though the 1-side-per-songwriter concept could have exposed some weaknesses, it plays as a cohesive collection. Nicely done, Sloan.

    Not sure why you would need a disclaimer since the concept of Sloan-bashing is foreign to me. Perhaps that’s because they’re merely a cult band in the US. I guess our neighbors up north have more passionate opinions.

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      I’m glad you’re digging Commonwealth, Rich! I really think it will stand up well. It gets better and better with each listen, too.

      Thanks for chiming in, you make an excellent point here – Sloan is kind of tough to write about. They have a sound, and so a review could easily be ‘hey that sounds like another awesome Sloan song!’ 12 times for every record! Maybe I’m too close to it, spent too much time with it all.

      The disclaimer was just because a few other recent posts had comments poking fun at the band, and I know it was all in good fun. It was pretty funny for a while, but I was hoping that on an actual review of the new record comments could be kept to discussion about the record itself. It wasn’t intended to be rude or exclusionary, just trying to keep things on point.

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  3. Deke says:

    I still remember what was it 92 with there debut on Geffen? There was so much press and vid and hype on em…crazy it’s been over 20 yrs already. To be honest with ya back than I did not jump aboard I just didn’t get it but when they stuck out that album One Chord with Good In Everyone One wow man great record especially with that fucked up horn in Everything You’ve done Wrong……that horn I can still hear inside my noggin!
    Hahaha…
    Perhaps I may to check this one out it’s been awhile!

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Yeah, but the hype was all wrong. They were hyped as the next Nirvana. WHAT?! Um, no. I don’t even think those people listened to the Peppermint EP or Smeared, they just heard that it had some buzzy guitars on it and away went the hype machine. Then they turn in Twice Removed (which is a stone cold killer classic by any measure you’d care to name) and all the hypers went WHUH? Haha doofuses.

      Man, I saw them on the One Chord tour and those songs were so great live. The album was awesome, but live it just got even better. Crazy! I saw the Twice Removed tour too, and those songs did the same thing. Just BOOM. I was hooked.

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  4. Deke says:

    I’m no where near the Sloan dude u are but I always dug that Patrick guys stuff, the rockier stuff I guess you could say. Cool review and the disclaimer was classic…..too be honest I have not really listened to em since that live ….your a true fan man!

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    1. keepsmealive says:

      Haha yeah I guess I’m a bit more invested. First saw ’em live in 1993 and been with ’em ever since. Their rock stuff is grand, especially live. But the poppier stuff is so sweet too, it all swirls into one big awesome picture, for me. Man, there’s been so much good stuff since that live record, you’ve got a lotta catching up to do! 😉

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          1. mikeladano says:

            For something like that, only 500 made and long gone, I think $170 is actually a payable price. If I had a spare $170 hanging around that I didn’t need for bills, I’d consider it. I really would.

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              1. mikeladano says:

                I believe it and it’s the thought that counts dude.

                I don’t expect them to reprint those. Of all the bands out there that are obviously collector geeks, Jay Ferguson is the king of them all. As a collector, it would piss him off if he paid $170 for something only to see it reissued. I just don’t think he would do it.

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                    1. keepsmealive says:

                      Oh yes. Thanks to JAMES THE KING OF THE INTERNETS (and my lovely wife was in on a couple of them, I think?), I have all of the Sloan releases like that. All the bootlegs (never opened – no need, I have the MP3s that came with them), the TR boxed set, that Murderecords singles set, all of ’em. SO. AWESOME.

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                    2. mikeladano says:

                      I definitely owe James gratitude on most of ’em, probably your wife too. And I have not opened my bootlegs either. I did open TR because I had to…

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                    3. keepsmealive says:

                      Oh yes, James uses his internets wizardy and magicks to weild unearthly powers and secure us copies of these Sloan releases. He’ll say it’s nothing much, but he’s modest as all get out. 😉

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              1. mikeladano says:

                Yeah I don’t know if he made it or a buddy of his did, but that was real nice of him to send. So I “kinda” have it. It looks nice enough in the collection.

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          1. mikeladano says:

            I do not have it yet but only because of budget. I plan on having it by Taranna. If not I’ll buy it IN Taranna. I definitely want to hear the Andrew Scott track. I consider him the “weird” one (I mean that in a nice way) and I’m glad he’s stretched out so much.

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            1. keepsmealive says:

              I could send you a preview of the Andrew track, but I worry it’d be out of context. The album works as a whole… Lemme know.

              If your Taranna budget ain’t got space for this record, I will make sure it goes home with you. 🙂

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                    1. keepsmealive says:

                      I am so tempted to get the vinyl too, just to have it as I think it was intended. Plus, I could support the band ALL OVER AGAIN! But we’ll see how the Taranna budget goes. I’m afraid I’d have trouble buying a second copy of an album when my basket will be full of all sorts of other goodies…

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                    2. mikeladano says:

                      If I found one for like $20 I’d probably have to get it. I have One Chord on vinyl. I just feel this band sound best on LP! I wish I had bought the double live on vinyl when I had the chance. 4 LPs I think. Maybe more.

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                    3. keepsmealive says:

                      Oh agreed. It’s really awesome.

                      Hey aren’t you the guy who had all the stage banter memorized too?

                      Never know what we’ll see in the city, Dude. Could be Sloan vinyl just sitting there waiting for you!

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