For the past two weeks I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Sam Roberts’ new album, entitled Love at the End of the World. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I decided to write a review of the album for epinions.com, a website which I have written a few music reviews for in years past. After writing the review and tried to post it, I found out that the album wasn’t listed on epinions and therefore I can’t post the review there. I’ve posted the full review on my blog instead. Over the past few years I’ve written a handful of reviews for the epinions.com. It’s a website that has consumer reviews for everything from music and movies to home electronics, house wares and sporting goods. I think I wrote my first music review for the site in 2003 and it’s been almost a year since I wrote my last one. I usually only review an album if it hasn’t had any reviews posted of it on the site. That way, people who are wondering if the album is any good will have something to go on. This was the case with this review. Also, I only write reviews of new music that I like, because spending a couple hours writing a review of something I don’t like is a waste of my time, while writing positive reviews allows me to share good music with others in the hope they will like it too. But, I very rarely formally review any album at all since explaining why it’s so good sometimes takes the magic out of the music. It’s kind of like explaining why a joke is funny – it’s not so funny after you do that. But I am enjoying this album so much that I thought I might try writing a review again.
Love at the End of the World – Sam Roberts
Pros: not a bad song in the bunch, rewards repeated listens, great sense of melody and superb musicianship from all 5 members, great production, they’re Canadian!
Cons: album may be hard to find outside of Canada
Bottom Line: Finds the delicate balance between radio-friendliness and depth. They are the Canadian band to watch in the next 10 years.
The Sam Roberts Band is:
· Sam Roberts – vocals, guitars, keyboards, harmonica, percussion
· Dave Nugent – guitars, backing vocals
· Eric Fares – keyboards, backing vocals
· James Hall – bass
· Josh Trager – drums, percussion
Maybe it’s my national pride that is compelling me to write my first epinions.com review in almost a year. I have always enjoyed discovering new Canadian talent, since I know that the Canadian music scene has just got to be better than the crap I see being lauded at the annual Juno Awards, which are nothing more than trophies awarded to whoever sells the most copies of their album and makes the biggest splash in the US, regardless of musical ability or the actual strength of the album.
Whatever the cause of this review, one thing is certain: Sam Roberts’ is probably one of the most underrated Canadian musicians out there. He’s not unknown – but he is underrated. The fact that his newest album, Love at the End of the World (released May 20/08) hit #1 on the Canadian charts is an indication that maybe all that is going to change. This Montreal resident has consistently shown, over the course of his 3 full-length albums, that he deserves to be mentioned alongside the giants of Canadian music and he is also proof that the Canadian music industry is deeper than just a few Toronto-based acts.
The album starts out with six great radio-rock songs. Somehow, Roberts and his band mates have not only discovered, but thrived on the fine line between catchiness and depth. They are probably Canada’s best example of radio rock done right. The first half of Love at the End of the World is so instantly enjoyable that it whizzes by. Starting out with the urgent title track that sucks you right in and moving on seamlessly from there, Sam and his band demonstrate their cohesiveness and talent as a group. Every member has great command of and feel for their respective instruments. The backing vocals accent the music perfectly, particularly on Stripmall Religion and Oh Maria.
Mr. Roberts has a gift when it comes to melody. His voice has a wide appeal and good range. In many of his songs he will sing a slightly different melody on the second verse or just for a couple of lines, which keeps the songs interesting and catchy. By resisting the temptation to stretch a couple good melodies into several songs, which I have seen many bands do, he puts them all into one great song and it pays off big time. You reap what you sow, and the work he put into writing this album is evident.
The songs revolve around a central melody then take off or build from there. Stripmall Religion and Fixed to Ruin are perfect examples of this, starting out with just Sam and his guitar and moving into full band numbers. The sections without vocals on Lions of the Kalahari and other tracks really allow the music to shine through, reminiscent of another great Canadian band, The Tragically Hip.
Each song also has its own feel, which ranges from soaring (Stripmall Religion) to melancholy (Sundance) to playful (Oh Maria). There’s even a throwback to foot-tapping 60’s rock with the album closer, Detroit ’67. The album’s first single, Them Kids, has a great music video (which you can watch here) and is a perfect summer rock song with its upbeat rhythm and fun lyrics: “I just don’t understand why them kids don’t know how to dance to rock n’ roll,” Roberts sings. The infectious song actually does make you want to dance and it really rediscovers the joy of good old rock n’ roll. The band, rather than trying to write a hit, is just having fun and it rubs off on the listener.
The guitar work on Them Kids is also a perfect example of the excellent guitar interplay which runs throughout the album. I got a lot more out of this album from listening to it on headphones since then it’s easier to distinguish the two guitars which complement each other so well. Sam and Dave are masterful with their effects pedals. James’ melodic bass work is creative and is especially enjoyable on Lions of the Kalahari. Drummer Josh Trager does a great job of providing interesting and intricate beats and helping the feel of each song. I especially like how he plays around with 4/4 time on Stripmall Religion. He’s also not afraid to step outside the standard drumset and use tambourines and shakers, which are nice touches on many of the songs. It’s also nice to hear Eric providing some keys to the tracks, which give the music a nice layered sound and help carry the melodies along.
As with his past albums, there is a detectable amount of Beatles influence on Love at the End of the World, although it is less present on this one than it was on previous albums. Up Sister reminds me of a modern-day John Lennon song. Overall, this new album is more diverse than past efforts, yet it still manages to form the cohesive whole that all good albums need to be listenable from start to finish. This is due in part to better songwriting and also in part to the excellent production, which sounds neither too filtered nor too rough and lets each song breathe and find its own niche.
The second half of Love at the End of the World takes a different turn. The songs are longer, mellower and require a few more listens to fully appreciate. Words & Fire is simply a beautiful song with its guitar and mandolin and Sam’s duet with fellow Montreal musician Angela Desveaux. Further into the album, tracks 10, 11 & 12 are strategically placed to test the listener. They are lengthy and not as catchy as previous songs, but are still musical and lovely in their own way. They require more effort on the part of the listener as they are songs which need to be actively listened to rather that played in the background.
The lyrics on this album are slightly above the standard fare, with standout ones being on Stripmall Religion, Them Kids and The Pilgrim (I especially like the line “I’ve got more troubles than a diamond’s got shine”). Up Sister contains a reference to Jesus and Them Kids uses a lot of religious terminology (“disciples,” “high priests”) in its lyrics. When lyrics from Sam’s previous albums are taken into account, particularly This Wreck of a Life from 2003’s We Were Born in a Flame, I can’t help but wonder if Sam is a religious man or was at least raised in a religious home.
I have been listening to this album almost exclusively for two weeks now and cannot find a major flaw in it. It is consistently good and offers a reward for repeated listens. It is also a great album to sing along to and deserves a listener’s full attention rather than background play. The album is easy to find in Canada but it is possible that it may be more difficult to locate in other countries. Hopefully that will change as Love at the End of the World definitely deserves a wider audience.
For lyrics and track listings, visit their official website: www.samrobertsband.com. For song samples, visit www.myspace.com/samrobertsband. For video clips of the recording sessions of the album, visit www.loveattheendoftheworld.ca.