Sloan, and the thrill of never hearing the end of it

 

Never Hear the End of It

I’m trying to figure out the best way to begin this post about Sloan’s new album Never Hear The End of It, which I picked up yesterday.

Do I make the all-too-obvious joke about the title by pointing out that the album runs 76 minutes with 30 songs? Do I make the also-all-too-obvious point about Sloan and the Beatles, suggesting that four songwriters + 30 songs = White Album? Do I point out the piano that adorns the album booklet as a welcome sign that this oft-neglected part of the Sloan musical repertoire is back in fine form? Or do I tell about the record store clerk who sold me the album, making ME of all people feel old for saying that he didn’t like it because it wasn’t the “rock-and-roll Sloan” that he grew up with.

All of that would be just wasted space, though. All that matters is that after only a few listens Never Hears the End of It is one of the most welcome surprises of the year, and from a band whom I never would have expected it from.

I had pretty much written off Sloan. After the one-two knockout punch of unarguable awesomenicity that is Twice Removed and One Chord to Another, Sloan decided that they wanted to be a rock and roll band instead of a pop one, turning out a series of over-produced, over-calculated 70s-style rock. They never stopped writing some great songs – “The Other Man” and “Rest of My Life” were both deserved hits – they were just buried on aggressively hit-and-miss albums. With the notable exception of Between The Bridges, every album since One Chord has been an artistic disappointment.

Action Pact was perhaps the most disappointing (while not necessarily the worst), an album the band now admits was an attempt to synthesize their sound into a radio-friendly rock format to try and break through in the States. Of course, it also flattened out all the quirks in their songwriting, most notably by denying drummer Andrew Scott a single song on the album

So I was more than a little surprised when I first heard “Who Taught You To Live Like That?” the lead-off single from Never Hear the End of It that was featured as a free download from the iTunes music store. First off, it’s a Jay song (I’ve had several arguments about this but after watching the video blogs on the band’s website, I’m pretty confident it’s his). Second, there’s piano in it, which has been neglected through much of the band’s work this past 10 years. And thirdly, it kicked ass: with a raw production that just flowed easily through the ears and a sing-along hook that’s hard to forget. Sloan were back to doing what they do best: raiding the Beatles catalogue.

I kid, I kid. But the White Album comparisons are welcome with Never Hear the End of It. Like with the White Album, this is each member of Sloan going off on their own to bring something to the table, coming back together again to produce, sing and mix the record. The song count is the most evenly distributed that it’s ever been, and the album is all the better for it. Is the album too long? Perhaps. Is there filler? Absolutely. But that’s the charm of this sort of album (unlike, say, a Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which gets bogged down by trying to be long AND epic at the same time). Here, short songs that would never have a chance on a 45-minute album get their moments as well, rendering the entire collection of songs eclectic and interesting from start to finish.

While lacking the truly knockout tracks that made Twice Removed and One Chord Canadian classics, there’s no question in my mind after only a day or so with the album that Never Hear The End of It is easily the band’s best album in a long time, since at least Between the Bridges (if not One Chord itself). There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but then again, Sloan were never exactly a groundbreaking band, sonically at least. Instead, they were master pop craftsmen, able to piece together their influences into a sound that seemed to merge the raw, distorted sounds of the late-80s alternative rock scene with 1960s pop music (among many other influences). And for a time, they were really friggin’ good at it.

Those times are back, boys and girls, and I for one couldn’t be more surprised or pleased. Welcome back, guys. We missed you. See you Saturday.

Download: Sloan – “Who Taught You To Live Like That?”

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