Sloan keep soldiering on in what seems like a hopeless cause.
In the opening track of their new record, Between the Bridges,
they sing, "Lost the fight but won the war," which may end up summarizing
their career pretty well. After several stellar power-pop albums, they're
still no closer to U.S. success.
Firmly in the Big Star and Badfinger camps, Sloan's four songwriters
crank out timeless pop tunes full of big guitar hooks and sweet multipart
harmonies. Like Matthew Sweet or Velvet Crush, their work has an evergreen
quality that keeps them insanely likable and far from the cutting edge
and the novelty-starved pop charts.
Between the Bridges isn't much different from last year's Navy
Blues it may even be similar to a fault. Both were full of
unpretentious, peppy tracks, but there's nothing much to distinguish one
record from the other, or indeed either from 1996's One Chord to
Another, save for slightly higher production values.
Not to suggest that Sloan aren't progressing. Surely all four of them
are becoming craftier songwriters "The N.S." (RealAudio
excerpt) hops through time signatures and waits quite a long time
before repeating a refrain, all without losing your interest or seeming
bloated; and the riff-rocking of "Sensory Deprivation" (RealAudio
excerpt) is their most forceful yet. But scramble up the tracks
of their previous three records and you'd be hard pressed to put them
back in order. Their old tricks are great, but they're still old tricks.
After a point, though, who really cares? The answer to the question "How
many great pop songs do we really need?" is surely "As many as possible."
Sloan are happy to add as much to the list as they're allowed. On
Bridges only the Fleetwood Mac castoff "Waiting for Slow Songs" (RealAudio
excerpt) wouldn't make the cut.
Will the most popular band in Nova Scotia ever strike U.S. gold? Probably
not, though it's our failing rather than theirs. Sloan have once again
committed their pop perfection to disc, and even though it breaks no new
ground, Between the Bridges is full of timeless treasures.