Pop Perfection

Not cutting edge. But who cares?

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.