Sloan/ Commonwealth (Murder/Yep Roc, 2014)
Commonwealth is Sloan's most consistently satisfying album since 2006's Never Hear The End Of It. Like that album, this is a double album, at least on vinyl. It fits on one compact disc, for the two to three dozen of us that still prefer to buy our albums in the CD format. Like Between The Bridges, this album is split democratically between all four members. Sloan is one of the few bands out there where all four members take turns singing lead vocals and all four members consistently write songs, with Action Pact being the only exception to that. While Between The Bridges saw each member get three songs, this album sees each member get an entire side to themselves.
While Sloan has evolved over the course of their 22-year recording career, their progress has been in small increments, with each album containing a few new facets of sound. One Sloan album to the next might not sound too different, but if you listen to every third Sloan album you will detect differences in arrangements and styles. I prefer this sort of organic progression to bands who seem to chuck the whole thing with each album and sound like some other band.
Each member is portrayed on the cover as a king for each of the playing card suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs), with each side being assigned one symbol. Side One is Jay Ferguson, the King of Diamonds. Side Two is Chris Murphy, the King of Hearts. Side Three is Patrick Pentland, the King of Clubs. The most interesting of his songs this time out is also the most uncharacteristic for him, What's Inside. It is drenched in feedback and sounds almost industrial, at least as far as Sloan is concerned. Last but certainly not least is Andrew Scott, the King of Spades. His whole side is one song, Forty-Eight Portraits, clocking in at just under 18 minutes. The first few minutes come off like Pink Floyd but the song builds and changes, echoing Delivering Maybes for a minute. I honestly did not like this song on the first few spins, a real disappointment since Andrew's songs usually steal the show for me. With a few more listens it has grown on me but remains my least favorite side.
Commonwealth falls somewhere in the middle of the Sloan catalog for me, highly enjoyable and sure to be my Sloan go-to album until the next one comes around in a few years. Sloan has been so consistent and so drama free that people tend to take them for granted, which is a shame.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4 out of 5.
The OCD zone- For those of you who just walked in, this is the part where I dissect the packaging of a book or CD. Those who buy mp3s and eBooks may be scratching their heads and thinking who cares, but to those of us who still value physical media this has some merit.
The case is a cardboard digipak with a glued on plastic hub, which pleases me. Those LP-style cardboard sleeves that a lot of CDs use nowadays suck if the inside is uncoated or if there is no additional sleeve provided. None of that here. Handled by the edges and placed directly in it's case immediately after play, my copy of Commonwealth with provide me with a lifetime of PURE LISTENING ENJOYMENT. Hipsters bag on us CD buyers, but I am not behind the times, I am ahead of them. The retro CD movement of 2024 will vindicate me! I will save you all a seat at the CD party, kids.
The booklet contains pictures and lyrics. There is also an insert with a download code for the entire album, which is a must since Andrew's song seems to have some kind of lame DRM on it that prevented my computer from ripping it. I am not sure, though, since I didn't walk down to my basement and fire up my prehistoric computer to see if it could rip it, nor did I journey upstairs to see on my wife's computer. Let me know if anyone has been able to successfully burn a copy of the CD with track 15 for their car and maybe I will walk over to either of those computers and try it. As is stands I burned the downloaded version for the car.