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Sloan | Action Pact (Vik Recordings/BMG)
After the stylistically diverse 'Pretty Together', Sloan's seventh studio album is perhaps their most cohesive. It also comes within a couple of whiskers of being their best. Produced by Tim Rothrock (Elliott Smith, Beck, Badly Drawn Boy), this is the most straight-ahead rock album from the Canadian quartet since their 1992 debut, 'Smeared'. Similarities end there, however; 'Action Pact' is no return to the Sloan of old, MBV-meets-grunge template. Instead embellishment is kept to a minimum and the upbeat, guitar-heavy songs come to the fore, exemplified by the opening brace of Gimme That and Live On. The following Backstabbin' is the only real dud of the set, although Chris Murphy's AC/DC 'homage' Ready For You is also in the running for that dubious honour. Here the band lose some quality control, neither song rising above b-side status, both little more than exercises in riff-based rock-by-numbers.
With drummer Andrew Scott's paternal duties depriving the record of one of its four distinct voices and guitarist Jay Ferguson's contribution limited to two songs, this is also the least representative Sloan album for some time. Despite all these potential shortcomings, 'Action Pact' boasts so many highlights that its place among the fans' favourites seems secure. The trio of songs that begins with Murphy's The Rest of My Life is stunning, everything that's great about Sloan (and  pop music in general as it happens) encapsulated therein. Hooks to die for, great harmonising and arrangements, and (particularly on Ferguson's impeccable False Alarm) an exuberance you'd be foolish to resist. All belong on any future 'Best Of' compilation, with Patrick Pentland's driving I Was Wrong, Murphy's soaring Who Loves Life More? and Ferguson's epic closer, Fade Away, all pushing hard for places.
Enhanced by the swapping of those two aforementioned under-achievers for a couple of Scott contributions (and an additional Jay Ferguson gem), 'Action Pact' would doubtless have sat alongside 'Between The Bridges' at the summit of Sloan success stories, instead it's left to fight it out for second spot with, say, 'Navy Blues' or 'Twice Removed.' Essential.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003