Canadian iconic rockers 54-40 get back to basics

54-40 play The McPherson Playhouse on Feb. 22

Even in today’s absurdly fragmented music scene, it’s easy to spot legendary bands. They’re the ones reliably cranking out great album after album, each distinct and accessible, in sync with the times and yet timeless.

Witness pop/rock luminaries 54-40, writers of countless iconic, enduring, chart-topping hits, loved by millions at home in Canada and across the globe.

Legendary, indeed, not to mention consistently in-demand on marquee stages far and wide. Fittingly, in their 38th year as a band, 54-40 unleashed Keep On Walking, their most eclectic, propulsive, flat-out excellent album in a career spilling over with them.

Featuring 11 original songs helmed by a quartet of superstar producers that would make a gear nerd quiver, Keep On Walking is a snapshot of precisely where singer/guitarist Neil Osborne, bassist Brad Merritt, drummer Matt Johnson, and guitarist Dave Genn — songwriters and multi-instrumentalists all — are right now: totally dialled in and seriously on fire.

“Gavin Brown has a system of recording that is tight and efficient but still leaves room for the magic that can happen spontaneously during recording,” Johnson explained. Osborne added that when it came to deciding who would produce what, “We asked the producers which songs among our demos piqued their interest and went from there.”

While long-time 54-40 fans will find recognizable sonic touchstones on Keep On Walking, sharp left turns also appear, perhaps most notably in the two tracks produced in Toronto by first-time 54-40 collaborator Brown — the above-mentioned “Hold My Kiss,” and the swirling, futuristic yet somehow vaguely psychedelic “Sublime Like Me.”

“My favourite song on the album,” Johnson says of “Sublime.” “I love the groove.”

“We’ve played the song live a few times and it’s already evolving,” Merritt adds.

“I think it has the potential to become a staple of our live shows well into the future.”

54-40’s success across the decades is virtually unparalleled. Formed in Vancouver by Osborne and Merritt on the cusp of the 1980s, the band — with only three line-up changes since its inception — quickly caught on with discerning local audiences, mining that rarefied space between rock, punk, folk, and pop.

The release of their self-titled album in 1986 heralded the arrival of a powerhouse with the songs “Baby Ran,” “Take My Hand,” “I Wanna Know,” and, especially, “I Go Blind” steamrolling across alternative, campus, and commercial radio nationwide.

54-40 will play an acoustic show at the McPherson Playhouse on

Feb. 22.

— Monday Magazine

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