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.

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Posted on September 22, 2014, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. Great post. I love the idea of the four sides by the individual members. You’re review sounds like this is a classic Sloan record — and then some.

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  2. 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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    • 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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  3. 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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    • 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. Guess I better lend you the drool bucket!
    Ha..

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  5. 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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    • 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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  6. 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/

    Like

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