Never Hear the End of It

(ViK; 2006)

By Conrad Amenta | 29 February 2008

It can be hard to justify to non-Canadians why Sloan have been around so damn long. To some, Sloan must seem simply another mirror for whatever self-aware, indie pop band lines the ‘staff picks’ shelf this week. But for those of us North of the border and now in their early to mid-twenties, Sloan can be synonymous with a time during our adolescence when the “The Good in Everyone” video was omnipresent on Canadian music TV; a time when it wasn’t unreasonable or ironic to favor a certain member’s contributions, be they Patrick Pentland’s signature rock archetypes, Jay Ferguson’s seventies gush-out homage, Andrew Scott’s noodling imagery, or Chris Murphy’s pop keystones. Sloan is a remnant from a time when government mandated content intersected with the rise of early '90s alternative rock, but by virtue of their fundamental Beatles rip they outlasted each of their long-gone counterparts and resisted the more ridiculous reincarnations some of them underwent (though I’m open to the idea that Our Lady Peace and Moist were never actually very good, I was just sixteen). Being Canadian and a success, Sloan have been embraced as an exemplar of the “Canadian rock rennaissance” -- something I know because of the chapter devoted to them in the book Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995. See it or not, Sloan might just be a North American, though not strictly American, staple.

If the band is still living down having their sophomore Twice Removed (1994) voted “The Best Canadian Album of All Time” in Chart Magazine, they may also be riding its coattails. Each of the band’s subsequent six studio albums have repeated a tried and true, multi-headed formula. Thus, Never Hear the End of It, despite a few distinctive twists, can’t help but once again predictably fall headlong into the territory each latter-day Sloan album has risked. It’s an album by a band no longer able to live up to the iconic images they insist on for their covers; it can’t sustain, or even initiate, the narrative of a storied and important band’s transition from period to period. Never Hear the End of It may as well be Sloan as a Sloan cover band.

They seem to turn off their filter and proceed to hot potato, from band member to band member, the same Sloan song to which we’ve all become accustomed. For all of its middling revisionism, at least their last record, Action Pact (2003), was their first to partially but consciously yield control (in its case to producer Tom Rothrock) in order to gain some semblance of concept or direction. Here the band returns to its inability to see through the film of its own shaky canon. Compartmentalized to the extreme, it used to be that the band’s varied output made their music, if not always fresh, at least difficult to completely write off. This is still true, but to a lesser degree; the album lacks focus because no one takes the lead. Take a look at the length of that track list, and then consider that this is a single disc album, just over an hour. By the time you reach the exhausting, noise-heavy ending of almost halfway point “I Understand,” listening to the rest of the album seems too great a task for a formula pop-rock band to ask of its listeners.

The most predictable shortcoming of the album is that any songs that may pique a listener’s interest are usually too short and, either because of it or causing it, consist of redundant, two-part recipes. Personal pet peeve is the fantastic momentum and delay of Andrew Scott’s “I Can’t Sleep” which, at 52 seconds long, is not nearly long enough to satisfy. There are exceptions: closest to fully formed involvement and continuing a recent trend, Jay Ferguson’s offerings are consistently the album’s best. “Can’t You Figure It Out” is more of the summery pop he’s been writing throughout the band’s decade plus and, like his “False Alarm” from Action Pact, a peak amid a flat album. “Right or Wrong” is simple and pure in a similar vein, with the kind of infectious chorus the rest of the album often sorely lacks. The time for a Ferguson solo album is now officially overdue -- lining up “Snowsuit Sound” next to “Can’t You Figure It Out” is a testament to just how far he’s come as a songwriter where his bandmates have often tread water or tried to turn the clock backwards.

Thankfully returning to the songwriting fold after a strange absence on Action Pact is drummer Andrew Scott, though here even he, who can usually be counted on for a song or two of strange, weighty psychedelia, refers to the album’s overarching blackboard rock. Just as mercifully the album lacks the usual plethora of Patrick Pentland anthems, which were on recent efforts generally lead-off singles and dragged down any of Sloan’s subtlety or deviation with arm-swinging, hackneyed-soloing overproduction. “Ill Placed Trust” still rears its ugly chorus as the album swings into its final third, stating, “Ill placed trust / promises rust […] ill placed trust / covered in dust,” only to meaninglessly conclude: “Can you feel it? / I can feel it.” By this point, though, the inundation of cliché lyrics throughout Never Hear the End of It provides cover for yet another inconsequential Pentland rock gesture.

The obvious swipe to take at the band would be that the title refers to its excessive length and laborious monotony. Its last third is terrible and could have been dropped outright, starting with “Ill Placed Trust,” continuing through the insipid “Live the Life You’re Dreaming Of,” the worthless “Hfxnshc” (which sounds like Offspring), demo-quality “It’s Not the End of the World,” and then, finally, the chugging, formulaic closer “Another Way I Could Do It.” Freed of this ball-and-chain addendum, the album still wouldn’t have come close to the band’s best work, but the better songs would have stood more of a chance of distinguishing themselves. As it is, they’re lost somewhere inside this confused mess of an album.