Power pop is a most fickle art form. In and of itself, it’s quite simple, re-working the bouncy melodies of the late ’60s with a heavy dose of power chord edge. But the bands that have become its greatest practitioners have gone one of two directions. Some cop the middle-class alienation of the Kinks (Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne or, particularly in Sloan’s case, the generational anthems of the Beatles).
Their earlier work was firmly ensconced in grunge and was always weighed down by
a distinct fear of bloated fame. As the ’90s waned they became more and more tuneful; a professional pop group. Popular in their native Canada, Sloan was never famous in the States, aware here only to music critics and a certain sort of fan.
Most of their albums are slipshod affairs, brilliant and heinously annoying, so it comes as no surprise their new release Never Hear the End of It contains a gargantuan 30 tracks. It’s not as much a double or triple album as a collection of sketches and interludes (a bunch are under two minutes), with a few full-length songs thrown in for good measure.
Too often nothing is accomplished. Sloan is suited much better to the three-minute, 32-bar form than the sort of arty experimentation their fans might want. It’s a peril of their status; without the fame you need, how can you write songs that should be famous?
Those full-length songs are mostly weak pastiches of their early work. “Who Taught You To Live Like That?” (which set an iTunes sales record) is an exception. A rollicking drumbeat and great vocal harmonizing compliment the expectedly dry vocals.
Still, most of the album feels like it belongs in ’93 when mimicking the bombast of classic rock was still in vogue. Sloan has the ability to be beautiful, to create some truly powerful anthems, but they don’t try here. The ennui of a band’s middle age has set in and killed the dynamic.
Sloan’s best music has bridged the gap between irony and melody, but the joke has now worn thin. Given a larger context, the album is still a fun listen. As with their trademark, one of the best examples of musical populism, each of the four members has a chance to sing and, as always, all are equally up to the task.
They lounge in their adolescent pithiness on “I’ve Gotta Try,” a style that might begin to wear thin (the band members’ individual ages are all approaching 40). But, given the blunt guitar arpeggios and some call and response, as on “Ana Lucia,” the band seems to have some music left in them.
It should be quite ill-fitting then to have the opening track declare the band is “Flying High Again.” Maybe they can be. If pared down to the best tracks, the album is an interesting, semi-cohesive effort.
Even so, there’s no doubt the band is settling into self-nostalgia, which, when you’re as inventive and continually fresh as Sloan, cannot be good for fans.