Totale’s Lost Classic review of Badfinger’s Straight Up has had me on an early 70s power pop rave up. In order to fulfill my need for lush melodies, sly guitar solos, and backbeat drums, I’ve compiled a playlist of the bands surrounding Badfinger’s legacy: Peter Ham’s Dream (re-read the heartbreaking story of the Badfinger front man on Wikipedia).
There’s naturally a gang of Badfinger on this mix. If you’re going to wear your influences on your sleeves then do it with vigor! Be proud and be true to their vision…and yours. While too many will dismiss Badfinger as a poor man’s Fab Four, I revel in their absolute and unflinching embrace of the Beatles‘ later-day sound. They were, after all, disciples of the Fabs so why not be true to that musical message? It’s that musical legacy, as translated by followers for decades to come, that this mix is celebrating.
In mixes like this I prefer to use a band as a point of reference; the point from which the musical personality is derived. Instead of the Beatles as the point in this case, I like the focus being once removed from the source. Bands like Sloan and Spoon are as much influenced by Badfinger (the second layer in the scheme) as they are the Beatles (the primary source). That’s the point. To me it’s just as valid to create new music that shares more of a sonic palette with your influences than not. How that influence is translated and communicated down through the various layers is what allows for the continuity of sound as well as originality in execution. Can you dig it?
The recently departed Jay Reatard summed it up so perfectly in this New York Times article from August, 2009 interview:
The whole concept for me behind pop music is to take your influences and filter them through yourself, and then they become something new. I’m not trying to move forward and create territory that hasn’t been mined before, I’m just trying to do my version of something that I like.
Sam Roberts, Sloan, and the Hard Lessons at the State Theater
Detroit, November 28, 2009
I should have seen it coming.
When a friend told me about the Sloan, Sam Roberts, & Hard Lessons show at the State Theater (I’m not down with the Fillmore re-branding) on Thanksgiving weekend, I was psyched. Putting the two best current Canadian rock artists together on one bill in Detroit? Fantastic call. It’s about time someone thought that up. We love Canada around these parts, eh?
So in picking up the tickets, I found out two things: one was that the best local rock radio station in Windsor/Detroit (actually based in Windsor), the River, was putting on the show, dubbing it the “River Icebreaker.” Nothing like a little nudge-wink humor to welcome in the bitter-cold season, yes? The second was that Sloan was opening for Sam Roberts. Curious, but no biggie… I guess Sam’s caught on in the D a bit more than Sloan, what with the topical Detroit song that we’ll get into later, and surely Sloan will get to play a full set, right? I double-checked and found that Sloan was indeed reportedly lined up to play a full set, and I was in like Flynn.
I took some heat a while ago for saying that Sloan‘s quest to sound like the Beatles was bordering on parody. Never Hear the End of It had some totally cool songs, but I still think that too many Fab elements leave you sounding more like the Rutles than the Beatles.
So, did the Canadians take my advice and dial back the Liverpudlian a bit? Not really, but for some reason it works this time. Maybe it’s that the songs are better, or maybe it’s because I am in deep into another of my frequent Beatle deep dives. I don’t know, but I like this album MUCH better than the last.
Album opener “Believe in Me” kicks off with some tasty guitar strums that are what Class A amps were made to create. Backed up with some Marc Bolan-like drums, “Believe” delivers three minutes and eighteen seconds of boogie and a healthy dose of snark. It’s the best opening track for Sloan since One Chord to Another’s “Good in Everyone” and that’s saying something!
Sloan exemplifies many of the things that make rock and roll great: strong guitar melodies, hooky yet not entirely predictable song structures, solid grooves, and strong singing complete with lots of harmonizing. In listening to their back catalog (which is, on the whole, worthwhile), it’s apparent that they’ve become more and more comfortable being who they are: a band intent on making songs that will pop back into your head for hours or days after listening to them. They want to be that band, earnestly.
Which brings us to Never Hear the End of It, Sloan’s 8th full-length studio release. Since their success is secure in Canada and probably never going to happen in the U.S., or maybe since Sloan has been at this for so long, they do some things with this album that are outside the norm. First off is the album cover’s background, which is pink. This, to me, is ballsy. How many male bands would do that?
I spent my youth listening to Sloan and now we’re growing old together. It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 13 years since the “Fab Four” from Halifax released the Peppermint EP. They may have a few gray hairs these days (except for Chris Murphy, who mysteriously has not aged a single day since 1992), but they are still in fine form.
I’ve had a lot of cheap beer spilled on me while watching Sloan perform at shitty outdoor festivals in Canada over the years, so it was a treat to see them in Seattle’s cozy Crocodile Café. I was curious to see how they would go over with an American audience, especially in the city that spawned grunge: the sound that the band quickly rejected in favor of the bright, melodic confections that graced their 1994 masterpiece, Twice Removed. Unfortunately, because their label (DGC) wanted “Nirvana North”, it refused to promote the album in the US, and Sloan remains a “cult” band in America to this day despite their mainstream success and radio “hits” at home. As the joke goes, the band’s career goal is to win a Grammy for “Best New Artist” the same year that they win a “Lifetime Achievement” award at the Junos.