I was doing dishes and listening to Arcade Fire’s last album, The Suburbs, and the wailing background guitar part on the song “Empty Room” sounded a lot like old-school Sloan. (It’s not impossible that Arcade Fire was influenced by the sound of Sloan, as they’re both Canadian bands–Sloan from Halifax, Arcade Fire from Montreal.) So I switched to Sloan’s debut album Smeared, which in my recollection was the first popular foray into grunge by a Canadian band. Smeared was released in 1992 on Geffen Records, almost 2 years after Nirvana’s Nevermind (also on Geffen) and a year after Pearl Jam’s Ten.
Remember the glory days of The Eagle & Child, when we would play “Name that Film” or “Name that Song” based on a couple of lines or lyrics, and I would give the winner a star or, later, a pilcrow? That was awesome. Anyway, my listen to Sloan prompted a Facebook edition of “Name that Song,” with these lyrics:
She wrote out a story about her life
I think it included something about me
I’m not sure of that but I’m sure of one thing
Her spelling’s atrocious
She told me to read between the lines
And tell her exactly what I got out of it
I told her affection had two F’s
Especially when you’re dealing with me
The lyrics are from “Underwhelmed,” the first single off of Smeared. Clever lyrics, catchy hooks, and grunge: the right mix for me at the time. I loved it immediately and purchased the album (on cassette!) which quickly became my favourite.
Here comes some early-90s Canadiana: I first heard the song “Underwhelmed” when CBC’s Street Cents played the official music video during an episode. Here it is:
This was back in Street Cents’ glory days, with Jonathan Torrens, Jamie Bradley, and Lisa Ha hosting, as well as Ken Pompadour, Buyco, and products that were “fit for the pit.” (I’m a Jonathan Torrens fan to this day.)
On their second album, 1994’s Twice Removed, Sloan left the grunge sound behind, switching to a more Beatles-esque alt-pop sound. It was a great album, though I thought the Chart 1996 reader’s poll declaring it the greatest Canadian album of all time to be more than a bit audacious.
And that, folks, is a bit of a stroll down memory lane, all thanks to Arcade Fire.