Review Summary: There's still good music at the end of the world...those first two albums were good. This one is spectacular.
The Canadian music scene has greatly evolved over the last decade and with it the classic Canadian sound. The baton has been passed from the Guess Who to The Tragically Hip to Our Lady Peace and now Sam Roberts who is clearly our flag bearer at the music Olympics right now. But something’s not right here…what did his predecessors taste that Sam has not? The answer is obvious… success south of the border. While it is the unfortunate truth that so many great indie artists from our glorious country receive no recognition or attention, (the Jonas Brothers seem to undeservedly hog it all) it absolutely floors me that Sam Roberts has yet to drink from the chalice. If we were to judge musicians based on their talent alone, Sam would be arguably the biggest performer on the planet if we let him. He has already proved he’s a viable commodity in this industry enjoying huge success in Canada with his mainstream debut “We Were Born in a Flame” and the experimental follow-up “Chemical City.” So what should one expect this time around? Those first two albums were good. This one is spectacular.
“Love At The End Of The World” grabs you within the first minute and doesn’t let go until the very last. It starts off with the title track to Sam strumming along and promising us that: “there’s still love at the end of the world.” Then it quickly explodes into the fast paced rock n’ roll song we come to expect from Mr. Roberts. Catchy hook? Check. Guitar solo? Check. Sarcastic, clever lyrics? Check, check, check! He couldn’t have picked a better song to kick off his third album. The themes of religion, politics, life and death are constant throughout the album and gives perspective to the unknown. “Stripmall Religion”, is vintage Sam Roberts as he expresses his disgust with the commercialization of religion over top of some excellent guitar work. While in others like “Up Sister”, Sam encourages us all to take action (“what you wish for tomorrow, you could have today,”) instead of waiting for change. “End of the Empire” is another great rock song with more than its fare share of political metaphors as Sam warns: “you can take what you want from me, but you better believe that I can see you,” (yes, you Prime Minister Harper).
But what really makes this one special is his ability to spread out the politically charged anthems with the lighter, fun songs. The first single “Them Kids” is a prime example of Canada’s best rock n’ roller doing what he does best, which is writing great rock n’ roll songs. The way the guitars compliment each other and the use of rim shots and toms make this one great. When Roberts complains that “them kids don’t know how to dance to rock n’ roll,” he’s reflecting on how things aren’t like they used to be and maybe Sam finds himself feeling old for thinking this. The Sims inspired music video is also worth checking out. He sticks to his quota of one acoustic song per album. This time he offers us the folk inspired “Words & Fire”. The female backing vocals compliment Sam’s perfectly and give this one a very ‘prairie-like charm.’ It’s the perfect way to follow “Them Kids” and the perfect way to slow the album down.
Although Sam stays true to his sound on tunes such as “Fixed to Ruin” (which makes you want to “dance like you’ve got no bones”) this doesn’t mean he is afraid to venture outside his box, which he actually does several times on this record. The most unexpected would have to be “Lions of the Kalahari” which has a safari-lullaby feel to it, this would make sense as he wrote it just before the birth of his daughter. Without question this is the most touching song on the album. This is preceded by the very pop driven “Oh Maria” which follows a love affair with a psychotic woman who is also a convicted murderer. Sounds heavy I know, but it’s done with such tongue-in-cheek humour that you can’t help but like it. Too many gems to pick just one, but my personal favourite is: “And her heart’s burning out of control, they gave her 5 but she’s out on parole.” Sam goes outside his box again in the middle with the gloomy, but brilliant “Sundance”. The message in this one: we all have problems, we all suffer loss and we’re all in this together.
The home stretch is kicked off with “The Pilgrim” where the bassist shines and truly makes this song (I should mention that he’s great throughout the whole album if not overshadowed by everything else.) This one presents the idea of running away and leaving it all behind: “destination, I don’t care, I know I’ll get there when I’m there.” The longest, slowest and quietest song appropriately titled “Waking the Dead” is what Roberts uses to bring us back down to earth. The theme of life and death returns in the form of this eerie ballad as Sam reminisces: “you only miss it when it’s long gone.” This gives way to the bluesy piano intro and the horn arrangement of “Detroit ‘67” which takes place in a time when Detroit had something to cheer for besides The Red Wings. Still, you can’t help but feel that this song is not just targeted at the auto industry. It’s a comparison of a simpler time and a snapshot of where we are right now. When Sam sings: “can anyone here tonight remember those times, can anyone here tonight just tell me what they felt like?” in the chorus, I think it speaks for itself.
Now I give it a 5/5, which I don’t do often because it implies perfection and as we all know by now, nothing in this world can be perfect (18-1). Well if nothing can be perfect, then Sam Roberts tries and gets pretty damn close with Love At The End Of The World. The musicianship is consistent throughout the entire album and the sound he evokes from each song is always different from the last but never inferior. I recommend this to anyone who truly loves music; it’ll be the best $11.99 (Cdn.) you’ll ever spend.