May 17, 2004

Sloan "Action Pact"

All right, you crazy Americans! How many of you had MuchMusic while you were growing up? I certainly did, and thanks to that I bought that Rusty album and a couple of Tragically Hip CDs. Besides that, though, I also got into Sloan. MuchMusic used to feature the video for "Everything You've Done Wrong" on their weekly Top 30 countdown. Every week, I'd look forward to hearing that Beatles-influenced, trumpet-adorned slice of pop bliss.

Where did Sloan go wrong?

One Chord to Another, Sloan's third album, which featured that song, was the ending to Sloan's short artistic peak. That album, and Twice Removed, the album before it, left a remarkable imprint on the face of Canadian popular music and the hearts of American indie kids who were lucky to receive that pop sound from north of the border. Yes, Sloan's place and important in rock history is secure, but the real issue we have to face here is whether or not their new material is as relevant.

After One Chord to Another, the quality of Sloan's music began to decline. Navy Blues, their fourth album, wasn't bad, but it just wasn't as good as One Chord to Another. That turned out not to be a temporary slump. Their next album, Between the Bridges, was something of a disaster. Sloan, even though their strength was in creating snappy singles, attempted to make an AOR record. The result was a somewhat bland record that I still haven't been able to get myself to listen to all the way through.

But Pretty Together, their second to latest album, was when the symptoms of the disease that now plagues the music of Sloan emerged full-blown. Their music was getting cheesy and starting to sound a little too commercial. The owner of my favorite local indie record store compared the new record to Corey Hart. Maybe it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't too far removed from that scenario.

Action Pact is something of a sequel to Pretty Together. They sound pretty much the same. And now, with this new album, I've realized what's wrong with Sloan. Do you remember how during their peak, Sloan had a heavy Beatles influence, which we all shouldn't have a problem with because Elephant 6 made ripping off the Beatles cool? Well, now Sloan has a different main influence... Cheap Trick.

What the hell? If you had to choose between basing a music career on ripping off the Beatles or ripping off Cheap Trick, which choice would you make? I think the choice is fairly obvious. But Sloan has gone against common sense and all but guaranteed that they'll never make another album approaching the quality of their output during their artistic peak. Maybe those rock star antics onstage (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you can hear such antics on Sloan's double-live album, 4 Nights at the Palais Royale) have seeped into their music. I don't know, but for whatever reason, Sloan has taken on the mantle of cheesy classic rock tribute band.

And that's why Action Pact is flawed. It's a parade of '70s arena rock clich├ęs (check out the cowbell on track 2) and a mishmash of kitschy classic rock influences that I wouldn't be caught dead listening to. I don't care what everyone else thinks, life is too short to waste your time drowning yourself in cheese rock for the ironic appeal. Sloan needs to realize that. Sloan's new mantra needs to be "less '70s, more '60s".

Now, to be fair, the album isn't a total loss. I'll admit that these songs are somewhat fun, and Sloan is always capable of producing at least two great singles per album (except on Between the Bridges. I like the rousing opener, "Gimme That", even though it bears a little resemblance to "If It Feels Good Do It", the big hit song from Pretty Together. I also love one of the two bonus tracks on the American release of this album, "Step on It, Jean", an homage to late-period Beatles, which doesn't fit on this album. But of course, I don't mind and I'm glad they provided that as a respite from the '70s kitsch bomb that is the rest of the CD. And you know what, I guess I could tolerate, maybe even enjoy, some of the other tracks on this album, but I just can't stand that they're nothing compared to what Sloan could be doing instead.

Please, Sloan. You're heading in the wrong direction and it's time to change course. Throw away your Cheap Trick records and start listening to the Beatles again. In fact, you break your Cheap Trick records. You could do it at one of your shows. Come on, you know it would be cool. Change your ways and repeat after me. "Less '70s, more 60's. Less '70s, more '60s..."

--Eric Wolf

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