Sloan: Lost in Translation?

It’s an old story north of the border, and in fact, Zero to 180 would be legally barred from writing about Sloan in Canada due to their massive popularity.  What would be the point?

Ah, but here in the States, Sloan is almost a dirty secret.  What’s our stupid problem?

The “Canadian Sgt. Pepper’s”?

Sloan LPSloan’s sophomore release, Twice Removed, would even be voted twice by Chart Magazine as (hold onto your hat) “The Greatest Canadian Album of All Time”!  That’s right, ahead of Neil Young’s Harvest and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.   At Sloan’s 2012 performance of their entire Twice Removed album, Zero to 180 would strike up a conversation with a fan from Up North and be struck by the young man’s bold declaration that this LP was revered (by more than a few) as a Canadian Sgt. Pepper of sorts.

And yet, the music venue hosting the show – DC’s Black Cat – was having none of it.  Despite having previously played the club’s main stage to a full room, Black Cat made the dubious and disconcerting decision to squeeze the band and its fans check-to-jowl into its tiny “Backstage.”  Oh, the indignity and blatant disrespect.  Seriously though, Black Cat – what the funst?!?

Sloan in 2011 at DC’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel (hourly rates available)


Twice Removed would be the band’s second release for David Geffen – yet another testament to Geffen’s savvy (DGC would also be home to Sonic Youth, Nirvana, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, John Doe, Aimee Mann, and Southern Culture on the Skids, while flagship label Geffen Records would bear witness to XTC, The Chameleons, Tommy Keene, The Misfits, Hole, The Simpsons … and er, the aforementioned Neil Young).  Despite having invested $120,000 in the making of Twice Removed, Geffen would do little by way of promotion, and the band would soon find themselves dropped from the label.  But hey, you can’t keep a good song down, and even this $2000 promo video for “People of the Sky” – filmed in the director’s backyard – does nothing to diminish the song’s oversized appeal:

“People of the Sky”     Sloan     1994

“People of the Sky” would hit the #58 spot on the Canadian chart in late 1994.

Sloan singlePop Matters makes a credible case for Sloan as Canada’s Beatle-ian counterparts — before you snort derisively, however, please allow Aaron Pinto to count the ways:

  • 1. The band’s lineup never changed after its first album was released.
  • 2. Each member was indispensable and irreplaceable.
  • 3. Each member had a distinct, unique personality.
  • 4. Each member could sing.
  • 5. Each member could write. (In the case of the Beatles, three did regularly.)
  • 6. Every album is essential and different from the one before it.
  • 7. There are enough albums to constitute a complete career, but not so many that it’s a burdensome task to listen to and keep track of them all.
  • 8. They were a tremendous live band.
  • 9. They cared about their band image—every album except one features each member’s likeness on the cover.
  • 10. The band always possessed a sense of humor, be it in its lyrics or its public interactions.
  • 11. They broke up instead of continuing and potentially tainting their band legacy with a lineup change or a bad album.

Mr. Pinto disturbingly writes about the band in the past tense, though the band’s website gives no formal indication (will try not to read too much into the statement “no shows booked at the moment”).  Has Sloan officially disbanded?!

Hey, did you know that Zero to 180 has a Facebook page where you can go and “like” stories that have earned a place in your heart?  It’s true.  Zero to 180 is channeling the spirit of Sally Field as it earnestly asks you to like it – papa bear could use some sugar.

Chameleons Create Way to Rock

In 1983, while The Ferns were recording a pair of original songs in the ‘modern rock’ vein, The Raisins had already been profiled the summer before in an arts piece for short-lived alternative weekly The Outlook entitled, “Raisins Create Another Way to Rock.”  The final section of that article – “The Problem” – would affirm The Raisins’ distinctive sound and musical sensibility, while acknowledging the additional friction caused by the band’s insistence on originality, at a time when Cincinnati was still very much in thrall with a more classic rock approach:

“Record labels want cliches, [Rob Fetters, guitarist] said, commenting on the nature of the music industry.  ‘We want to invent cliches.  Some labels say we weren’t commercial enough, and others said we’re too commercial.  One label said they wanted material that sounded like Styx and Foreigner.’

Although [bassist, Bob] Nyswonger said they were musically influenced ‘by everyone,’ Fetters said, ‘We don’t want to copy another group’s sound.’

Referring to a popular rock song, Fetters said, ‘Only an idiot would say, There’s only one way to rock [Sammy Hagar’s 1981 radio hit of the same name].'”

Chameleons 45-a1983 would also see the release of a soaring single – “Up the Down Escalator” – by UK up-and-coming modern rockists, The Chameleons, who were likewise exploring alternative ways to “rock,” as it were.  “Up the Down Escalator” would traffic in the same sort of chords (I-IV-V) as many a blues song, intriguingly enough — and yet sound the furthest thing from the blues.

Pop Matters would lavish the following praise on this stand-out A-side for its 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’80s:

“Manchester band the Chameleons’ debut Script of the Bridge is one of the great unheralded post-punk albums of the ‘80s.  It’s strong from start to finish, but they really nailed it with the first single ‘Up the Down Escalator’.  It’s a galloping rocker with a massive wall of guitars by Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies over John Lever’s rousing drumwork.  Frontman Mark Burgess delivers an impressive vocal performance, conveying all the restless urgency and simmering unease exhibited by the song’s title (never mentioned in the lyrics), ‘Oh, must be something wrong boys’.”

“Up the Down Escalator”     The Chameleons     1983

I can only imagine how unsettling this lyrical ambiguity must have been for US audiences, as evidenced by MCA’s decision to re-title the song for the American market, “Up the Down Escalator (There Must Be Something Wrong, Boys).”

“You either swim or you drown…”

Chameleons 45-cThe Chameleons, who disbanded in 1987, would reunite in 2002 for a series of dates that would find the band in especially fine form for their appearance at Washington, DC’s Black Cat, for which the band would be supported by Springhouse, whose drummer – Jack Rabid, proprietor of The Big Takeover Magazine – would review Script of the Bridge for Trouser Press.

Knob Twiddling by Colin Richardson – no relation to Zero to 180’s nephew

Chameleons 45-bIn 2011, Mark Burgess and drummer John Lever – as “Chameleons Vox” – would perform Script of the Bridge in its entirety at a pair of shows in Oakland and New York City.