There was a time in my life when Sloan meant as much to me as The Beatles—to whom they're so often compared—did to their fans. You could say that the band falling out of favour with me was an inevitability, but let's be frank; they didn't exactly help their cause. Even in the best possible light, albums like 2001's Pretty Together, 2003's Action Pact, and the obviously rock-solid (but unnecessary to a fan) singles comp A-Sides Win seemed to signify that this quartet had lost their songwriting mojo, and with it, my attention.
As such, I wasn't even looking in their general direction when 2006 brought the massive double album Never Hear The End of It—the thought of 30 tracks of the kind of cluttered, confused, rock-star-aping music they'd been making recently was, to say the least, unpalatable. But when I finally got around to giving it a chance, I very nearly made its title my literal mandate. It was in my stereo endlessly. Today, I'd say it may be their finest hour—not only for the fact that it's possiblly their best album, but because its brilliance, variety, and seemingly bottomless tunefulness immediately sent me back into a state of giddy fandom. I called up friends, breathlessly telling them that, in case they'd not yet heard, Sloan was back, baby!
Since that time, the band has entered a new and more lasting stage of love with me—the kind that you don't turn you back on with the same fickleness that accompanies youth. The Double Cross is getting all sorts of notice for the wordplay of its title, which coincides with the group's twentieth year. But the real story here is how, since NHTEOI, the band has tapped into a new comfort with their sound that manages to never be complacent. So much of the first half of the 2000s was about clinging to their inevitably fading "Money City Maniacs"/"Sensory Deprivation" beer commercial/radio dominance—it sounded like Sloan, but a cloying, anxious version, flashing its listener with riffs and cliches like a guy in a trench coat with Rolexes. Today's Sloan is far more at ease with their collective strengths.
Like the two terrific albums that proceeded it, nothing on The Double Cross sounds unnatural, out-of-place or overthought. Once again, songs flow from one to the other like the second half of Abbey Road—early album highlight "Shadow of Love" even gets reprised at the end of "Beverly Terrace" in such a seamless way, it takes a couple listens to notice what the band has done. By this time, the roles of each member have been clearly defined—Ferguson is the pop classisist; Pentland the ball of pithy riff rock angst; Scott the basement-dwelling Dylan-loving sage; Murphy the wordy prankster—and they truly understand how to play off each other's tendencies to make a complete experience. The ebb and flow of this album is simply note-perfect.
When considering the band's legacy—as so many are apt to do right now in a series of band-produced YouTube clips—that's maybe what resonates the most. That for a group that have been considered one of Canada's greatest singles bands of the past twenty years, what they really do well (especially lately) is make perfect albums. And for all of the groups from whom they draw obvious influence, today, they only sound like one band: Sloan.