Toronto-based quartet Sloan has been playing the most consistent quality power pop for over 20 years, and longer than any other band (still active) in the genre. After the career nadir which was 2011’s Double Cross, the band does something off the beaten path once again. This 15-song collection sees Sloan creating one of the most ambitious recordings of their career. Like the touchstone LP Never Hear The End of It, you’ve got a pile of great tracks and like The Beatles’ White Album, each band member creates a unique album section with its own layered personality. I’ll highlight each side here.
Jay Ferguson side: On first listen, it’s no different than any other Sloan LP – a good balance of sweet vocal melody and guitar riffs with enough hooks to keep you in headphone heaven. “You’ve Got A Lot On Your Mind,” “Three Sisters” and “Cleopatra” are standouts. The ’70s-style harmonies are most present here, with clear influences from The Beatles (especially Paul McCartney), Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren.
Chris Murphy side: Not as sweet, but just as strong, “Carried Away” resembles a Fleetwood Mac classic with heavier lyrical tone. The piano ballad “So Far So Good” is part of Sloan’s perfect melancholy theme that states, “When it comes down to it everybody meant well/Before their lives went to hell.” Another standout is “Misty’s Beside Herself,” which is a great story/song about a shy girl who finds herself in a relationship.
Patrick Pentland side: Here is where the bombastic guitarist gets to break out the riffs on “13 (Under A Bad Sign)” and the fuzz feedback anthem “Take It Easy.” In a major stylistic change from the previous two band member segments, Pentland opts for the heavy riffs and guitar effects. While the best track in his set is “Keep Swinging (Downtown),” it didn’t really lend itself to repeat listens.
Andrew Scott side: Probably the most ambitious of the sections, it’s one long 17-minute suite called “Forty-Eight Portraits.” Opening with about three minutes of discord and barking dogs, it really catches your attention with a Led Zeppelin-like piano bridge and guitar. It’s equal parts of stunning brilliance, rambling rock cliches and layered codas worthy of Who’s Next. It takes a few listens, but it’s worth it.
The band has matured to the point where these experiments keep things fresh. It’s the hooks here that will keep you listening to this album over and over again. What Commonwealth proves is that we have four skilled songwriters and instrumentalists with distinct tastes that keep Sloan atop the list of power pop bands.
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