Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sloan: "Commonwealth" (album review)

Over the past 20 years there are precious few Canadian bands who have put out new quality material as reliably as Sloan.  On September 9th they come back with another dose for you in the form of the 15-song Commonwealth. (Read my interview with the band's Patrick Pentland here).

The quartet has always shared the songwriting duties, but they've chosen to highlight it further by dividing the album into four distinct segments based on their author.

First up is Diamonds, the which features five songs penned by Jay Ferguson.  This is the slick pop section of the record.  Songs range from the slow lush Beatles-infused "Three Sisters" to the smooth '70s AM radio sound of "You've Got a Lot On Your Mind", to the singer/songwriter style of "Neither Here Nor There".

Chris Murphy's five contributions on the Hearts side are next.  These tracks tend to be more ornate.  Strings and piano are prominent.  Unfortunately, they are also more hit and miss.  It works on the melodic "Carried Away" and the catchy "Misty's Beside Herself", but it falls flat on the rather plodding "So Far So Good".

With the beginning of Patrick Pentland's Shamrock side we begin to get the guitar rock.  There are plenty of squealing guitars and feedback on "Take It Easy".  The lead single, "Keep Swinging (Downtown)" is classic road trip rock n' roll.  He even gets vaguely Cult-ish with the kick-ass "13 (Under a Bad Sign)".

Things swing wildly all over the stylistic map with Andrew Scott's near-18 minute album closer "Forty-Eight Portraits".  It begins with some Tom Waits-esque improvised percussion, before flowing through dramatic rock opera moments, and several other genres before winding up with a grand children's choir.

If you've ever wondered which Sloan member writes the songs that best speak to you, then Commonwealth will definitely answer that question (you can probably guess mine from this review).

Best tracks: "13 (Under a Bad Sign)", "Keep Swinging (Downtown)"

Track listing for Commonwealth:

  • We've Come This Far
  • You've Got a Lot On Your Mind
  • Three Sisters
  • Cleopatra
  • Neither Here Nor There
  • Carried Away
  • So Far So Good
  • Get Out
  • Misty's Beside Herself
  • You Don't Need Excuses To Be Good
  • 13 (Under a Bad Sign)
  • Take It Easy
  • What's Inside
  • Keep Swinging (Downtown)
  • Forty-Eight Portraits

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