Between The Bridges is never the first album that comes to mind when you think of Sloan, but it’s first in the hearts of many fans.
Though they never fit into the grunge camp for very long (in my humble opinion, Smeared is way more shoegaze), that label has lingered around Sloan longer than an untreated STI. And while their second album Twice Removed more than made a case against that pejorative descriptor, it was Between The Bridges, the quartet’s fifth album, that finally set Sloan free from any remaining flannel-lined shackles.
Between The Bridges never seems to be the first record that comes to mind when you think of Sloan, but it’s first in the hearts of many steadfast music fans who see it as the most accomplished and complex record in the band’s impressive decades-long canon. In many ways, Between The Bridges broke with some pretty well-established expectations for a new Sloan album when it was released in 1999. Initially, “The N.S.” seemed an unlikely choice as album opener: it was their longest first track since Smeared’s “Underwhelmed” and the least overtly pop. It’s also the first Andrew Scott-penned song to ever kick off a Sloan record. And yet, this moody, atmospheric joint rolling in on a foggy cloud of electric piano is the essential McGuffin that sets the stage for Between The Bridges’s autobiographical themes.
From “The N.S.” onward, the album plays out like a Broadway musical score: “Friendship”, “All By Ourselves”, and “Losing California” all reference the band’s evolution from local legends to national treasures. This is Sloan singing about themselves — four stalwart musicians who freely moved between instruments and lead vocals, choosing their places well in order to best serve the music; four friends and co-workers who’ve experienced breakdowns in their partnership, come to the brink of break up and somehow found a way back that solidified their individual personalities into a cohesive whole. That narrative arc is further reinforced by the way the record masterfully sequences tracks with a musical logic that finds one song ending on a chord that smoothly leads into the opening of the next tune.
There’s still certified Sloan pop a-plenty for the kids, as “Beyond Me” and the aforementioned single “Losing California” sparkle with 70s AM radio sensibilities alongside the superb “A Long Time Coming” and the dewdrop perfection of “The Marquee and the Moon”. But fittingly (and not so coincidentally), Between The Bridges is bookended by another stellar Andrew Scott composition. Where “The N.S.” serves as a sort of overture to open the album, “Delivering Maybes” is its anthemic coda celebrating Sloan’s perseverance and tenacity as a band. It also marked the end of an era for Sloan, capping off a three-year, three-album run that saw them deliver the best, most endearing music of their career. Sloan’s collective songwriting expertise pretty much guarantees that as long as they continue to write and make music together, they’ll never release a subpar album. Still, none of their post-millennium releases have carried the same electrified experimentation and creative cohesiveness as Between the Bridges.