After more than a decade on the sidelines of pop music, singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who turns 60 this year, seems fashionable again. Proof can be found in the number of younger Canadian artists discovering and recording his songs, including Sarah McLachlan, Ron Sexsmith and the Rheostatics. Another sign is Lightfoot’s latest album, A Painter Passing Through, which bristles with youthful urgency. Songs like the edgy My Little Love, about a hungry street musician, and Boathouse, punctuated by Daniel Lanois’s piercing guitar, reveal a surprisingly tougher Lightfoot. And the surrealistic Uncle Toad Said, about a garden toad that serves as moral guardian to a house of young partyers, may be his most comical song to date. Despite a few duds, the album is easily the artist’s strongest in years. There is even one piece of Canadiana, Ringneck Loon, that seems destined to become another Lightfoot classic.
The Watchmen (EMI)
The Watchmen are Winnipeg’s answer to R.E.M. Like the superstar group from Athens, Ga., they are another quartet fronted by a moody singer who favors cryptic sounds over decipherable lyrics. The connection goes even deeper on Silent Radar, The Watchmen’s fourth album. The Canadian band teamed up with U.S. producer
Adam Kasper, who has worked with R.E.M. in the past, and he helps bring a looser, more textured feel to the songs. But he does nothing to help Daniel Greaves clarify his vocals. Although the group is steadily maturing, Greaves could use a different role model than R.E.M.’s renowned mumbler, Michael Stipe.
In the past, Sloan has won both critical and commercial success, but never at the same time. The Halifax quartet’s second recording, Twice Removed, was number 1 in a 1996 Chart magazine poll of people in the music industry to determine the top 50 Canadian albums of all time. But the release sold poorly—unlike the group’s next, 1996 album, One Chord to Another, which earned sales of 80,000. Now, Sloan may be able to enjoy both. “It’s funny how you get a feel for it, when you finally lose your sense of fear,” sings Patrick Pentland on Iggy & Angus, from the band’s new, fourth album. Fearless is a good way to describe Navy Blues, which spans everything from the reckless funk of She Says What She Means to the wildly operatic Sinking Ships. But Sloan is still largely a pop-rock band with a taste for lush, Beatlesque melodies. And most of the album is devoted to either sunny tunes or relentless rockers. In fact, there’s barely a weak track to be found—a sign that Sloan may have finally produced a pop masterpiece.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.