Sloan: Action Pact (Koch)

For more than ten years, the best American rock ’n’ roll hasn’t been made by Americans, but by a Canadian four-piece from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sloan, while hugely successful in their homeland, has never caught on with their dim-bulb neighbors to the south (that’s us, you dim bulb), and after years of major mishandling by major U.S. labels, the band has finally released its newest effort, Action Pact, in the States through the smaller, independent Koch Records imprint. This record came out in Canada months ago, so you can get down on your knees and thank the rock gods that it’s getting a U.S. release at all. At this point, we don’t deserve them.

While Action Pact is missing the lighter and more experimental pop that created the nearly schizophrenic dichotomy of their last release, 2001’s Pretty Together, what you do get is all rock, all the time. And with songs this strong, that’s a good thing.

Action Pact’s garage-y opener, “Gimme That,” instantly ignites with explosive drums and perfect (but not too perfect) harmonies—before reaching the second verse, you already know it’s the hookiest rock song you’ll hear this year. Before you realize that track has ended, the album’s whiplash sequencing has moved on without you, already busy hooking you on the shameless cowbell swagger of the Paul Stanley–channeling “Live On.”
Lyrically, the hit single (up north, anyway) “The Rest of My Life” may be of the typical maturing-rocker-looking-to-get-his-shit-together variety, but the song’s buoyant sense of joy (including a shout-out to Canada that’s surely a crowd pleaser back home) and huge sing-along chorus breathe new life into an often-tired subject. It’s an impeccable pop song, making you want to move to Manitoba so you can hear it played on an actual radio, where it belongs.

Producer Tom Rothrock, known for the delicate chamber pop of Badly Drawn Boy and Elliot Smith, lets his inner AC/DC freak run wild on this record, most notably in the chugging guitar crunch of “Backstabbin’.”

The tone darkens (if only a little) toward the end with “Reach Out,” throbbing with its urgent drum-driven climax, followed by the resigned, foreboding anthem “Fade Away.” These unsettling last songs cut deeper than the rest, betraying a bitter sadness just below the surface.

Though the U.S. version boasts two new bonus tracks, owners of the Canadian release shouldn’t rush to replace their copies. Usually, Sloan bonus tracks and B-sides are as good (and usually better) than the tracks they’re supplementing. But Action Pact’s extras feel too much like filler after the expert machine-gun sequence of songs that precedes them. These new songs only suffer by comparison, however, and would stand alone nicely as, you know, actual B-sides, if rock singles still mattered.

The great news for new fans is that Action Pact is Sloan’s seventh album. How often do you discover a new favorite band with that many gems already in the can? You lucky American bastards.
— Brian McClelland

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply