The cultishly admired Canadian pop-rock band Sloan hasn't progressed much since its 1996 breakthrough One Chord To Another, which abandoned halfhearted stabs at grunge in favor of shaggy-haired '70s pop. The group went heavier and deeper on 1998's Navy Blues, fooled around with suite-like arrangements and autobiography on 1999's masterful Between The Bridges, and made a stab at modernizing with synthesizers and atmospherics on 2001's Pretty Together. But the core sound remained the same: pounding, whooping rock anthems designed to make dingy clubs sound like circa-1978 Kiss concerts.
Sloan's new Action Pact (finally available in the U.S., after last year's Canadian release) might initially sound underwhelming to longtime devotees, since the record's unvarying thud and shout-along choruses are about as obvious as the band has ever been. Roaring, single-minded tracks like "Backstabbin'" and "Hollow Head" verge on arena-rock parody, rather than the loving homage that has been Sloan's stock in trade for almost a decade.
But like a lot of the group's albums, Action Pact has to be broken in a little. The sublime simplicity of "False Alarm," "Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore," and "I Was Wrong" sounds more impressive with repetition, especially when compared to modern rock acts that lack Sloan's zest, warmth, and personality. Its charm is distilled perfectly in the two-minute stomper "Ready For You," which consists of two or three pounding power chords and a chorus that's just the song title. "Ready For You" kicks down the door, lumbers through the room, and exits before it overstays its welcome, while leaving a few bucks behind to cover the damage. Like Sloan itself, it's a friendly monster.