This year marks the 30th anniversary Smeared, the debut album from Sloan, one Canada’s most acclaimed bands of all time. Keeping the same 4 piece lineup for the last 3 decades Sloan’s quality of music has remained consistent all the way through their most recent release in 2022.
13 – Action Pact (2003)
Sometimes the choice for the bottom of a list is a very easy choice. That’s the case with Action Pact. To be clear, this is not a bad album at all. It’s just not fully a Sloan album. Action Pact is a Murphy/Pentland album with very minimal involvement from Jay Ferguson and no sign of Andrew Scott in site. The band have gone on record that the selection of using almost all Chris and Patrick songs was not made by the band, but by the producer. The goal was either to have a more consistent sound from start to finish, or to focus more on the up tempo tracks. If those were the goals, then mission accomplished, but again it just doesn’t feel like Sloan with Andrew and Jay as background players. Most of the Chris and Patrick songs are fantastic as always, but one of Jay’s only songs on the album, Fade Away, is a real highlight. I hope one day it would be possible for the band to release a new version including a more even split of song among the members to see what could have been.
Highlights: The Rest of My Life, Backstabbin, Fade Away
12 – Pretty Together (2001)
If any other band released Pretty Together it would probably be viewed as a career highlight. Sadly the biggest knock against Pretty Together is that it followed a string of 4 of the most perfect albums ever recorded. At some point even the best music acts have to go from producing perfection to producing something that’s just really good. To highlight the positives, Pretty Together does feature the best start of any album they’ve ever recorded. If It Feels Good Do It, In The Movies and especially The Other Man are about the best trio of songs you can open an album with. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s all downhill from there, but everything past The Other Man does sound weaker in comparison. So to penalize an album just because the first 3 songs are so good nothing else lives up to it doesn’t seem like too harsh of a criticism. Credit to Chris Murphy as his songs really keep the album alive.
Highlights: The Other Man, If It Feels Good Do It, In the Movies
11 – Smeared (1992)
In 92/93 Sloan was promoted as Canada’s answer to Nirvana and the grunge scene. In the early 90s as grunge was still fairly new that probably seemed more accurate than it does today. The only American bands of that era that Smeared sounds even slightly similar to are possibly Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine. While it’s a fantastic album with songs like 500 Up, Median Strip and Sugartune that sound like the starting point from what Sloan would become, it’s almost unidentifiable as a Sloan album if you’re familiar with their later material. This is also the only Sloan album that sounds fully a part of the time period it was made in. It is very much a 1992 alternative rock album. Another knock against it is how little the contributions are from the rest of the band. At this point Sloan was mostly Chris Murphy as the lead with one song from each of the other members. Underwhelmed still stands as one of the top 2 or 3 most famous songs the band has ever produced. Again, while not a bad album, it is very much the beginning of a band that would take a huge leap forward in only 2 years.
Highlights: Underwhelmed, 500 Up, Sugartune
10 – Parallel Play (2008)
Parallel Play suffers from some of the same issues as Pretty Together. There are a handful of songs that are really strong, so some of the other songs feel a little inferior in comparison. I will say it’s considerably more cohesive than Pretty Together. There may have been a more conscious effort to produce single worthy songs than in the few albums that preceeded Parallel Play. ‘Believe In Me’ is probably Patrick Pentland’s best single in years. While the songs are more radio friendly, there does seem to be more experimentation with different sounds on this album as well. Emergency 911, Burn For It and The Other Side start to evolve the band’s sound, and all 3 are top notch tracks. They do clash a little with some of the more traditional songs on the album though. Not so much that it’s distracting, but enough that the album doesn’t flow as well as others do. The seamless transitions without pause breaks is used for the first time since 1999’s Between the Bridges. This works brilliantly to tie Burn For It and The Other Side together, but not as well to tie others together. Parallel Play reuses some successes from past album concepts, but those concepts don’t work quite as well this time around. It’s a minor complaint on an otherwise strong album that’s just enough to keep it outside of the top half of the list.
Highlights: Believe In Me, Witch’s Wand, Down in the Basement
9 – The Double Cross (2011)
The Double Cross was Sloan’s 20th anniversary album (Double Cross=XX), and in a way it’s a love letter to Sloan of the past. Nobody is trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead just deliver the best classic sounding Sloan album they can. Each member so perfectly knew their strengths after 20 years that within 5 seconds of any song you can instantly say ‘This is a Jay/Pat/Andrew/Chris song, and that’s before even hearing the vocals. The first single Unkind takes the crown as the greatest Sloan single of the new millennium, while the Jay led Beverly Terrace might be one of the best blends of all four members musical skills in a single track. While Parallel Play may have had more radio friendly stand out tracks, The Double Cross feels like the more mature album with the band gelling together better after 20 years than they did in their prime.
Highlights: Unkind, It’s Plain to See, Follow the Leader
8. 12 (2018)
The appropriately titled twelfth album came 4 years after their previous album, at the time the longest gap ever between Sloan releases, and yet the band came back just as consistent and catchy as they had ever been. Sloan had never been a band to do massive amounts of experimentation, but particularly Andrew Scott’s tracks sound like the band as a whole are having more fun than ever playing around with solos and harmonies. It’s hard to pick favourite songs as everything is so consistently good, although Andrew’s 44 Teenagers has so much crammed into less than 4 minutes that the song leaves you feeling like you heard a 9 minute epic rock suite. While Patrick, Chris and Jay are all in top form, I feel this is the best trio of Andrew songs since 1999’s Between the Bridges. This might be the least mainstream sounding Sloan album since the mid 90s, but there’s no doubt the quality of the tracks is all there.
Highlights: 44 Teenagers, Spin Our Wheels, Right to Roam
7 – Navy Blues (1998)
If everything else on Navy Blues were nothing more than the quarter having a 40 minute belching contest, the strength of Sloan’s signature song “Money City Maniacs” alone would make it worth the price of purchase. You add to that She Says What She Means, C’mon C’mon, Keep on Thinkin, Seems So Heavy, Suppose They Close the Door and you might have Sloan at their most purely entertaining and enjoyable. This is also the band sounding their most Beatles-like of all of their albums. So many bands have recorded music over the years that sounds like The Beatles, but Sloan may be the only one I can think of that produced songs good enough to compete with the best of The Beatles. Primarily on the basis of Money City Maniacs and She Says What She Means, here on Navy Blues the bands starts to transition ever so slightly into 70s rock territory. And as only Sloan can, they manage to have a retro sound while still sounding modern. Navy Blues should be the text book for so many throwback bands in modern music.
Highlights: Money City Maniacs, She Says What She Means, Seems So Heavy
6 – Commonwealth (2014)
The concept of Commonwealth may be the only minor distraction when listening through the 30 year discography of Sloan. All four members have an equal contribution (hence the title Commonwealth) which really isn’t anything new to Sloan as most of their albums contain equal contributions from each member. What sets Commonwealth apart is that all members songs are grouped together. So Jay has the first 4 tracks, followed by 4 from Chris, 4 from Patrick and finally a single near 18 minute long suite from Andrew. Some fans dislike the concept of each member getting a side to them self, and some love it. I’m in the middle as I understand it is a distraction simply because the band has always staggered their songs on each album, but I consider it to be less of a distraction and more just something that stands out as being different. The reason I love Commonwealth is because the quality of songs is ridiculously strong. ‘Cleopatra’ is easily in my top 2 or 3 favourite Jay songs ever, ‘Carried Away’ and ‘Misty Beside Herself’ show off Chris Murphy’s writing and vocals at their best, Patrick clearly had a blast with his 70s punk inspired contributions, and Andrew Scott delivers a massive 18 minute long suite in ‘Forty Eight Portraits’ that even Pete Townsend wouldn’t have been ballsy enough to compose. While the concept of keeping each members tracks separate is noticeably different from what fans are used to, in a way the concept actually enhances the songs. I would be curious to see whether this album plays better or worse with a more random track listing.
Highlights: Cleopatra, Misty Beside Herself, Take It Easy
5 – Steady (2022)
Another 4 year wait for a new Sloan album a and they manage to come back with their best album in over 15 years. I tried to avoid recency bias as at the time of writing this list Steady was only 6 weeks old, but in all honesty, I feel this album has grown on me more in the last 6 weeks and can only get better from here. This might be the most evenly balanced album Sloan has had since the mid 90s. All four members are still delivering their own distinct style and sound, but the songs all come together in a way that you may have to listen closely to determine who has the lead. This is in part due to a lot of collaboration such as Jay’s ‘Dream It All Over Again’ which features some shared vocals with Chris, not to mention some of the best harmonies the band has ever produced. The album also features one of the best combination of upbeat pop rock songs like the openers Magical Thinking and Spend the Day and some of the strongest slow songs like Simply Leaving and Human Nature, the latter being Chris Murphy,s best slow song since The Other Man over 20 years earlier. Any band 30 years into their career typically shows some signs of fatigue, but Steady proves that’s hardly the case with Sloan, who at this point I believe will still be popping out their best work when they’re in their 70s and 80s.
Highlights: Dream It All Over Again, Human Nature, Spend the Day
4 – Never Hear The End of It (2005)
The only double album Sloan ever released if you don’t include the 4 Nights at the Palais Royale live album. As a concept double albums are all but dead, which for the most part may be a good thing as they usually have a lot of padding. Too much good material for a single LP, but not enough for a double LP. That’s not the case with Never Hear the End of It. Here are 30 songs that just breeze by, and every one as strong as the last. Who Taught You to Live Like That may be the greatest song Jay Ferguson ever wrote and recorded, and maybe in the top 5 Sloan songs of all time, period. Aside from that I have a hard time picking any other individual songs as favourites. One smart move was to not try and pad the songs themselves out. A good chunk of the songs are less than 2 minutes. Typically songs that run 1-2 minutes are forgettable interludes, but songs like Blackout and HFXNSHC are among the best on the album. I have to imagine producing this album was a huge gamble, even for a band with such a loyal fanbase as Sloan. Labels don’t want to take the risk on double albums, fans don’t want to necessarily shell out the extra cash for a double album. The band fill the album with songs ranging from 53 seconds to 5 and a half minutes. They’re coming off of their previous 2 albums that had less enthusiastic response (in Sloan terms at least). Even as a die hard Sloan fan I even remember being less than thrilled in the lead up to the release. The gamble obviously paid off as Never Hear the End of It remains to this day as the album to beat, at least of the post 90s Sloan.
Highlights: Who Taught You To Live Like That, Ill Placed Trust, Last Time in Love
3 – Between The Bridges (1999)
For years I feel like this was Sloan’s forgotten album. In retrospect it may have just been the lesser known one due to the fact it didn’t feature a huge stand out single like Money City Maniacs, If It Feels Good Do It or Underwhelmed. Over the prior 3 albums Sloan had really become a 4 man band with all members sharing songwriting and lead vocals. Between the Bridges made it the most equal partnership they had ever had with all members having 3 songs to make up on the album. Even the ordering of the tracks is divided equally. The first 4 tracks go Andrew, Chris, Jay, Patrick, then tracks 5-8 and 9-12 each have 1 song from each member. This equal division paid off to make this Jay and Andrew’s album to shine. Their contributions make up most of the best songs on Between the Bridges, particularly with Andrew’s The N.S. What I love so much about Between the Bridges is that there are no tracks that I ever feel like skipping. Part of this is how the album is pieced together without pause breaks. You go straight from the N.S. into So Beyond Me as if it were one seamless track, and this continues all the way to the final track. Either through the structuring of the album, or more likely how perfect every song blends together, I just enjoy each song as a Sloan song. For the first time ever the band started to write songs that almost sound inspired by each other.
Highlights: The N.S, Sensory Deprivation, Don’t You Believe a Word
2 – Twice Removed (1994)
This album turned out so radically different from Smeared and so radically different from what the band’s US label Geffen wanted that it was released with almost no fanfare south of the border. While it wasn’t an instant massive success in Canada, it quickly took on legendary status. Only 2 years after it was released it was named as the greatest Canadian album of all time by Chart magazine. I remember at the time there was some talk of whether it was too new to really be considered greater than anything by Neil Young, The Tragically Hip, Joni Mitchell or Rush. Ten years later it was again named as the greatest Canadian album of all time, so it clearly has withstood the test of time. What’s so impressive is how Sloan evolved from the Chris Murphy “grunge” band to the commonwealth quartet and Beatles throwback only 2 years later. It almost sounds like Smeared was the album Sloan thought everyone wanted in 92, but Twice Removed is the album only they wanted in 94. While Chris writes and sings more songs than the other members, the split is pretty close. Only Coax Me and People of the Sky were ever released as singles, but I would argue that any single song on this album could have been released as a single and become a classic.
Highlights: Penpals, Coax Me, I Can Feel It
1 – One Chord To Another (1996)
Is it possible to top Twice Removed, the “greatest Canadian album of all time” only 2 years later? Some might say it’s not possible, but if any Sloan album can take the honors it would be One Chord to Another. This is not only the best-selling album of Sloan’s career, but it also made the top ten on the same Chart list of greatest Canadian albums that Twice Removed always tops. To me this is Sloan fully formed. One Chord to Another features an even more retro sound than on previous albums. The production values are unbelievably strong, which is even more impressive when you consider the band paid for it in pocket change as far as the music industry is concerned. This is a low budget indie album with a million dollar production sound. While Twice Removed took a step back as far as the heavier rock songs go, One Chord to Another has the perfect balance of slower songs, power pop, and heavier rock songs. For the first time Patrick Pentland’s songs have put him on equal footing with Chris Murphy as a front man with The Good in Everyone and Everything You’ve Done Wrong being the two biggest hits on the album. While I can listen to any Sloan album from start to finish and never get bored, One Chord to Another is the one I could put on repeat for 12 hours straight and never get bored. The story goes that after the US failure of Twice Removed and the band having a lack of control they chose to not renew their contract with Geffen in in America and all but broke up as a band. If not for a few a few shows they were already contracted for, chances are Sloan would have ceased to exist and everything from One Chord to Another on would have never happened. As luck would have it they had a renewed interest in writing and recording, made an album with zero outside interference, and over 25 years later are still near the top of their game. I say near the top of their game not as a knock but as the biggest compliment to One Chord to Another as a 100% perfect album.
Highlights: The Good in Everyone, The Lines You Amend, Everything You’ve Done Wrong, Can’t Face Up