Sloan - The Double Cross 12 inch
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The title of Sloan's new album is an oblique reference to the band's age. The Double Cross = XX = 20, for the 20 years they've been a band, the same four guys making records and touring together, with all the attendant peaks and valleys of notoriety that come with that. They've been one of the world's great power pop bands that whole time-- hell, they've just been a great rock band-- and that's an oddly thankless achievement. They've never matched up with the flavor of the moment, or seemed to try to either, and it makes them easy to overlook, because people are always talking more loudly about something else.
But they've made a lot of music with staying power, records stuffed with great songs that sound good any time. Go back and listen to Between the Bridges, Never Hear the End of It, or One Chord to Another. They haven't aged a day. And here, 20 years in, they've made one of their best albums to mark the occasion. It comes three years after their last album, which matches the longest gap of their career, and even with all that time between to work on new material, it's still their shortest full-length, topping out under 35 minutes (longer with the iTunes bonus tracks). That brevity and focus turns out to be an asset, though-- there is no fat at all on the album, and every song is lasered into the shape that gives it the biggest impact. Four last less than two minutes and five seconds, and yet nothing feels slight or too short.
Part of the reason for that is that the album is expertly assembled to work as a seamless whole, much like Between the Bridges and Never Hear the End of It were. It's not a random collection of songs they happened to have around. "Beverley Terrace" reprises "Shadow of Love", and there are other call-backs on the album, not to mention the fact that songs are sequenced so that opening and closing tempos match up, and even the key changes sound good as one song turns into another. The band has also worked hard to broaden its sound. This is the lushest Sloan album, with several keyboard-driven tracks and a couple of heart-stopping ballads to give it a more varied landscape.
Though it's clearly structured to flow as an album and function as an absorbing start-to-finish listen, The Double Cross is still the kind of record that makes you want to talk about every song individually. Nearly any of them could work as a single. "The Answer Was You" is built around what sounds sort of like a Mellotron flute figure, with a hint of disco lurking in its rhythm guitar part. "Laying So Low" is the slow closer; it opens like an after-hours drag but quickly blossoms into something stirring. On "Your Daddy Will Do", Sloan, possibly by accident, manage to sort of diagnose the reason they're still making great rock records even though they've never been in fashion doing it: "They kind of lost touch with what's in and who's who." "Unkind" is the sort of stomping power pop tune that made them hitmakers on their Canadian home turf.
As great as all these songs are individually, they sound best together, and hearing them in relation to one another reveals things about them that are harder to catch when they're separated. That may seem paradoxical, but I don't think it is-- making this kind of record is a peculiar talent of this band. That they sound this creatively fresh this deep into their career is a real treat for people who've stuck with them through the years. If you've never given them a chance before, this is a great time to get to know them.