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'Commonwealth' proves that Sloan has four skilled songwriters and instrumentalists with distinct tastes that keep the band atop the list of power pop bands.

Music Review: Sloan – ‘Commonwealth’

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.

Sloan - CommonwealthJay 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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About The Power Popaholic

The Power Popaholic (aka Aaron Kupferberg) is a music blogger that focuses on the genre of power pop and melodic rock. I also report on live shows, tour dates, gossip, MP3′s, videos and just about anything a power pop fan could want. Reviews have been featured in The Rock and Roll Report, The Christian Science Monitor, Virgin Top Music Blogs and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. To read past reviews visit www.powerpopaholic.com

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2 comments

  1. Awesome review, but I must take issue with the “nadir” tag abscribed to The Double Cross. I really enjoyed it and they played almost all the songs from it on the supporting tour, and they compared well to the rest of their stuff. For me Action Pact is the one I reach for least, but I attribute that more to the production philosophy than the actual songs.

  2. What?? Double Cross was amazing! There wasn’t a bad tune on the album. Go listen again… I’ll wait.

    Otherwise, I agree with this review. After a week of listening I still like to listen to the whole thing from start to finish. It just works really well as a whole.