If Spoon is the current king of indie pop, Sloan, which formed in Nova Scotia in 1991, is the band that would be king. Far too excellent to go as underappreciated as they have been in the States in the last decade (though they’re almost as famous in Canada as Led Zeppelin is), the band have taken more risks and demanded attention since signing to Yep Roc, a label often considered an alt-rock graveyard.
The band’s eighth album, 2007’s Never Hear the End of It, is a pop album that’s remarkable for its creative structure — a collection of mostly sub-two-minute songs that recalls both the medley of Abbey Road and the inspiration of Double Nickels on the Dime. The structure of Parallel Play is more conservative at thirteen songs, but the songs themselves are not. The album is all over the place, with traces of Queen pop excesses flowing seamlessly with crunching, almost hardcore-punk-tinged guitar rockers and some weird stuff, too. Yet each of the tracks keeps Sloan’s Big Star-sounding power-pop roots intact.
The album kicks off with the keyboard-driven “Believe in Me,” showing off a confidence the band have lacked since their most acclaimed album, 1996’s One Chord to Another. “Emergency 911” is the closest the band has ever gotten to hard rock, and “Down in the Basement,” an intentionally obvious homage to Dylan, sounds more like a brilliant spoof than the ripoff some will indubitably claim it to be.
The highlight of the album is without a question “I’m Not a Kid Anymore,” up there with the best tracks so far in 2008. It’s one of the better songs yet that laments the fate of the ’90s alternative rocker as he hits middle age — going from jean jackets and girls to routine and seclusion. The rest of the tracks range from the good-not-great to not-so-good, and one of the benefits of the structure of Never Hear the End of It was that it was easier to overcome the occasional misfire.
One thing Parallel Play has over its predecessor, however, is the sound of a band with a befuddled place in the rock canon finally finding their place, which is doing whatever the hell they want to do.