Sloan – Pretty Together

Pretty Together

I haven’t been especially excited about a Sloan album for 10 years. That’s a long time for a band to be together and continue making music, developing their sound as the band matures as people and musicians. When Smeared was released in 1992, containing one of my favorite songs from that year, “Underwhelmed,” Sloan seemed to be the perfect power-pop alternative band, combining elements of Ride and My Bloody Valentine with Husker Du. It was the album that propelled them to the vast group of loyal fans that saw the band become more psychedelic and pop-oriented over the course of five more albums, culminating in 1999’s disappointing Between the Bridges.
But with Pretty Together – released in their native Canada in October and on RCA Records in the states in April – the band sounds better than ever. Rejuvenated from their time off and the ability to both record at their leisure and release the album on their own label (after leaving their contract with Geffen), Sloan appears to have all the energy and enthusiasm that made Smeared a landmark release not just for Canada but for the year as a whole.
Now calling Toronto home, Sloan named their new album Pretty Together after a line in a Velvet Underground song. It’s obvious where their roots are. This four-piece band – in which each member writes songs – is still trying to make the perfect power-pop song, but now instead of the Ride-influenced rock of Smeared, they’re embracing the Cheap Trick and Velvet Underground influences that were hinted at in a kind of adulation on their last albums but now spawn the band’s own, unique sound.
From the beginning, Sloan has pursued a Beatles-like sensibility, and the psychedelic nature of their music clearly reflects back to the best of the Beatles and the Who. But the band’s modern, purely rocking bent to pop has always set them apart just enough from being a retro-minded bar-band. Songs like the dreamy, soft and sweet “Are You Giving Me Back My Love?,” the bouncy, reverby “In the Movies,” and the Beatles-esque “Never Seeing the Ground for the Sky” clearly show the band’s love of the 60s. But the high-speed, energetic rock of “If it Feels Good Do It” and the light pop of the beautiful closer, “Your Dreams Have Come True,” show a band that’s found their own way, just as influenced by modern indie-rock.
Some of the band’s best works are included here, like the aforementioned “Are You Giving Me Back My Love?” and its equally sweet and melancholy companion, “Your Dreams Have Come True,” the homage to untrustworthy relationships in the mid-tempo “The Other Man,” and the acoustic melancholy theme to hard times, “The Life of a Working Girl.” “People people / it’s up to you / they say rock and roll is dead again / you tell me if it’s true” the band belts out on the rock assault of “Pick it Up and Dial It,” perhaps a message to their own audience. “It’s In Your Eyes” is a song that would have sounded out of place on the band’s previous albums, but her the mature, mid-tempo, pop-rock style is so pristine and crisp it’s a highlight track.
Sloan will never, in my mind, capture the energy and edgy unique nature of “Underwhelmed” and Smeared. Maybe that’s why I didn’t give them much thought as they continued to pump out psychedelic-tinged rock and tour North America. But Pretty Together has definitely caught my attention. As infectious as their up-tempo rock tracks are, it’s the band’s more contemplative moments that show their true maturity. It’s great to hear that Sloan has released another truly excellent rock album.