If Sam Roberts’ Chemical City shouts a warning cry for society’s inevitable collapse and wanton destruction, then I say bring on the bombs. The album explodes with guitar rock greatness reminiscent of the best acts of the ’60s and ’70s while it offers its own commentary on the current state of the world. It’s not a revival of the protest songs from that former decade, but rather an affirmation of the power of a solid tune to carry a message to the masses. It transitions effortlessly from balladry to no-holds barred
rockin’ and barely leaves you a second to catch your breath. Like Led Zeppelin without the Lord of The Rings references, Sam Roberts and his band remind listeners what makes rock music so compelling in the first place.
Hailing from the Great North, Roberts gives us another reason to bow down before the seemingly endless outpouring of great music from our Canadian neighbors these past few years. Sharing sensibilities with his compatriots in Montreal, The High Dials, Roberts and his band are the forbearers of neo-psychedelia built upon a classic rock foundation. Much of Chemical City was recorded in a renovated church in New South Wales, Australia that Roberts happened upon while vacationing Down Under. The church setting must have had a profound effect on the development of the album’s sound; it’s filled with warm organ textures and references to ‘Turin Shrouds,’ ‘holy grails’ and ‘water from wine.’
Opener “The Gate” wastes no time as it launches into rampant guitar rock not unlike Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” After an unassuming organ intro segues into delicate finger-picking, the song transitions to full-bore rock mode while Roberts conjures an ominous portrait of unrest and deterioration in the ‘chemical city.’ The acoustic “Bridge To Nowhere” turns the volume down a little, but not much. Tambourine and lush organ fill in before the reverb and handclaps hit as Roberts laments our industrialized world: “I said I don’t wanna breathe this chemical breeze no more.”
Clocking in at just over 8 minutes, “Mind Flood” dives head first into psychedelic waters with extended instrumentals and vivid imagery. With lines like “if love is a cult, we are all believers/ cruel, passionate underachievers,” Roberts invokes the sexual revolution of the ’60s in which his musical styling would be right at home. “Mystified, Heavy” weaves the tale of a wayward sailor unable to steer his own destiny amid acoustic strumming and a driving organ even Ray Manzarek could appreciate. The Tom Petty inspired “An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay” is Roberts’ anti-war tribute to an American seeking refuge in the ‘frozen fields’ of his homeland. Like Austin’s The Black Angels’ “The First Vietnamese War,” it brings attention to a topic largely ignored by artists today.
Devotional “Uprising Down Under” slows the tempo with its acoustic balladry while closer “A Stone Would Cry Out” ends the album on a somber, yet surprisingly reassuring note with a piano serving as Roberts’ only accompaniment. If you need to believe in rock music again, (pure, unpretentious, and energetic) then Chemical City is just the thing to shock you out of your suburban haze.
The High Dials – The War of The Wakening Phantoms
Led Zeppelin – IV
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes