December 27, 2017 Sloan – Smeared At 25
One of the most prolific bands that emerged from the Canadian Alternative Rock music scene in the 1990s, Sloan has on its members’ sleeves a total of eleven studio albums, from the innocent and carefree Guitar Pop excursion of 1992’s Smeared to the ambitious, four-sided double album Commonwealth of 2014. Despite the various styles that the enduring Canadian band had explored from every album to the next, its debut full-length remains to be the epitome of the well-loved ’90s Alternative Rock sound.
Formed in 1991, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, by Chris Murphy (bass, lead vocals), Patrick Pentland (guitar, keyboards), Jay Ferguson (rhythm guitar), and Andrew Scott (drums), Sloan got to earn their badge of Alternative/Indie Rock credibility immediately after the release of Smeared. Because it is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, to revisit this well-loved oeuvre of Sloan is timely and appropriate.
Released on October 1, 1992, Smeared started with its first single—the fuzzy, angular, and poppy track “Underwhelmed,” whose title was a misnomer (or, at the least, an understatement), for it was rather an overwhelming dose of melodies and harmonies. It not only put the word underwhelmed to popular use (to refer to the cynical or apathetic or hard-to-please youths of any given generation) but also championed the right amount of noisy-melodic combo that had become the trademark of ’90s Alternative Rock music. Smeared‘s saccharine starter then passed the baton (or the spatula for that matter) onto the ensuing “Raspberry,” with which the album’s Twee-like vocal traits were slowly taking full form, contrasting the midtempo’s sweet-sour buzz. This gave way to the beloved, bittersweet, and upbeat “I Am the Cancer,” which was a standout among the rest of the tracks because of its mellifluous vocal harmony; something that any ’60s Pop–influenced vocal group would be hard-pressed to contend with.
“Median Strip” has always been an ear-catcher, owing to its slightly syncopated bass-and-drum pulses that counterpointed with the Shoegaze swirl of the layers of guitars. “Take It In” was a change of pace, slowing and relaxing the ambience albeit temporarily for, as soon as the chorus hit the enchanted listener’s ears, a wave of distortion burst into the spectrum like sonic splinters. The album’s midsong was also the highlight—“500 Up” was the catchy, dancey, structurally progressive single that made Sloan a favorite among the MTV Alternative Nation champions of the decade.
Sloan then took its listener to a dizzying, yet delightful helicopter flight with the choppy rhythm and guitar swirls of the syrupy “Marcus Said.” This was followed by “Sugartune” – a rather heavier and Grunge-styled affair, making the ensuing cinematic and atmospheric “Left of Centre” a breath of acoustic air, blowing a faint breeze of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Another citric tune came next in the form of “Lemonzinger” – sweet and soulful vocals on a backdrop of sour and sharp guitar-oriented instrumentation, hooky basslines, and stomping drumbeats; it will always fit in well on a playlist that includes My Bloody Valentine (“Sometimes”), Chapterhouse (“Breather”), Catherine Wheel (“Shallow”), Pale Saints (“Language of Flowers”), Ride (“Taste”), and Slowdive (“When the Sun Hits”). Switching the gear to a notch higher, faster tempo and noisier machine gun guitar grates, “Two Seater” took again the listener to a double-thrill, feedback-filled rollercoaster ride. Finally, Sloan splattered its last smear in subdued grace and brilliant lyrical cynicism… as the slow, bluesy, Shoegaze ballad “What’s There to Decide?” slowly drilled into the auditory canal of the listener like a sugarcoated sour gummi earworm.
Twenty-five years have passed, and yet the sonic taste of Sloan’s Smeared remains as delectably tart and honeyed as the first time the songs comprising it had found their way into the regular diet of Alternative Rock enthusiasts during the genre’s golden decade. Whether it is because of nostalgia or of an unwavering love for this kind of music, give Smeared a fresh, new spin on your record platter and get a delightful dose of daze once again.