Sam Roberts - Chemical City
Sam Roberts emerged as a household name in Canada with his acclaimed 2003 debut, We Were Born In A Flame. Featuring four hit singles, and loaded with infectious sing-along choruses, the '60s throwback nature of the record was among the freshest things to happen in Canadian music in years. Roberts took the unusual step of recording the follow-up in Australia, and after a three-year hiatus, returns with Chemical City.
For those worried Roberts was going to do little more than rehash WWBIAF fear not. Chemical City retains a number of the elements that made WWBIAF so memorable, but much has changed. This will likely not have the mass-appeal of WWBIAF; this is still hippie rock, just not of the every-man variety. Save for the momentum-losing ballad ‘Uprising Down Under,’ Chemical City is moodier, more intense, and much more experimental. Rather than a collection of inviting singles, the best songs here are the less accessible ones, such as the eight-minute epic ‘Mind Flood,’ with Roberts relying more on changes in rhythm and in loud-soft dynamics. Roberts' improving vocal harmonies are also given greater focus. The songs in general are longer and more rebelliously independent, with more inventive structures. Lyrically, the record is a little less uniquely Canadian this time, though the radio-ready ‘An American Draft Dodger In Thunder Bay’ is sure to be a live crowd-pleaser (Tragically Hip fans, take notice), along with the warm country rock of ‘The Resistance.’ Also a highlight is the lonely, intimate piano ballad ‘A Stone Would Cry Out.’
Chemical City is a necessary step for Roberts. While compared to WWBIAF, Chemical City may eventually be seen as a little self-indulgent, Roberts seems determined to not let his songs stay inside the box - no matter how inviting or successful that box has been. Perhaps the best explanation for this record is the closing lyric in opener ‘The Gate’: “The gate is gone now, you'd better run.”
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