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.
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!
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!
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.