Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: Yep Roc
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Power Pop
One of the great rock clichés is that the Beatles' White Album is four solo albums in one double-LP. Leave it to Sloan, the great, progressive Canadian power pop band, to find a way to one-up the Beatles. Commonwealth, their 11th studio album (which perhaps coincidentally borrows a title from an old Beatles outtake), is divided into four distinct sides, each written and recorded by an individual bandmember.
Canada's answer to the Fab Four, Sloan, are still charming after 23 years together - yep, 23 years. The band's 11th studio album is meant to be experienced as a double record on vinyl, one side dedicated to each of Sloan's four co-songwriters. But even over headphones attached to a computer, the record unfolds in distinct chapters: Chris Murphy's eclectic Heart side is a little Tom Petty, with some minor-key piano balladry breaking into Police-like reggae on So Far So Good, and boasting a slow, melodic standout in Misty's Beside Herself.
Sloan, as an entity, is the ultimate example of delivering on the premise and promise of The Beatles: four members that take turns leading the group with their own compositions, trading off lead vocals, and, occasionally, when more than one member is at the helm of a song, they reach a magical place that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. As an added bonus, Sloan happens to be a consistently great rock group, often harkening back to the “classic rock” days of yore, while remaining undeniably Sloan-esque. Of course, there are huge differences between Sloan and The Beatles.
Let’s not bury the lede here. Commonwealth is Sloan’s 11th studio album, and for the first time since the abstract sketch-style cover of their 1993 debut, Smeared, the band has created an album cover that isn’t simply a variation on a photograph of the four members. Sure, their faces still appear prominently on the cover, as the four kings on playing cards, but there’s a lot more to the album artwork than just the guys in the band.
In the past decade, Sloan have released a near-masterpiece (Never Hear the End of It), a pretty great record (The Double Cross) and a couple minor efforts with endearing moments — all things considered, a solid batting average for a band 23 years into a career. This creative success comes even as the individual styles of Sloan's four songwriters seem to continue to grow apart, with even their better albums sounding like exceptionally well-sequenced and well-curated compilations.This is taken to its logical conclusion on Commonwealth, a four-sided record with one side for each band member. Separating Sloan into its four solitudes reinforces one's impression of each songwriter.
Sloan’s decades-long journey from moody Halifax art-school-shoegaze label purgatory to cool, paternal pop-rock has been characterized by their affability and genial demeanor. Those admirable qualities have overshadowed the band’s considerable ambition: they’ve slapped together double albums, concept albums, and multi-song suites, all stuffed with winding melodies and tight, idiosyncratic vocal arrangements. Commonwealth, their eleventh studio album and first in three years, following graceful career highlight The Double Cross, pays titular homage to both the band’s Canadian heritage and their democratic songwriting partnership.