Review Summary: The sound of a band with its mojo back.
Sam Roberts has been hinting at an album like this for quite a while now. 2011’s Collider
delivered a much-needed dose of fresh new ideas for this band’s sound. It was a bouncier, funkier rock album with dashes of jazz mixed in with the familiar acoustic/alternative rock these guys have been playing for years. Lo-Fantasy
is the ultimate realization of what they’ve been trying to work towards. Instead of dipping their feet into electropop territory, they jumped right in and made it a defining aspect of their sound.
Looking at the album cover gives you a fitting first impression of what you’ll get: a bright and colourful palette of songs. “Too Far” and “Human Heat” are both groovy stadium hits that effortlessly combine the familiar guitar-driven rock with a funkadelic twist. “Human Heat” is probably the hardest this band has jammed since “Don’t Walk Away Eileen” off their debut record, even capping the song off with a pseudo-scream to close it. Most other tracks continue to energize the album with their bouncy synth beats and juicy bass lines that, frankly, feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the higher mix of sombre ballads that the previous two albums had. Sam Roberts has always seemed stuck in the days of old, emulating Bob Dylan. So it’s both fitting and humorous that when he finally brings a pop influence into his repertoire, it would also have a very retro 80’s feel, as it does on the Phil Collins-esque “The Hands of Love”. There are a few slower moments, namely the out-of-place “Never Enough” and “Chasing The Light”, but you’ll forgive the latter song for starting off a tad slower as you crank the volume when the chorus hits.
Sam Roberts shows he has a knack for writing vocal hooks, driving a common theme of strong choruses throughout the record, some of the best he’s ever written. Opener “Shapeshifters” is basically saved by its sing-along chorus after starting the album in a somewhat rushed fashion, bringing in too many sounds too quickly. The way he chants “there goes my alter-ego, you know everyone that I know”, or even when he declares to “keep moving, don’t stop” on lead single “We’re All In This Together”, there’s a conscious feeling that the band wants to involve the audience. This music is meant to be sung in large crowds at rocking concerts. The lyrics are no longer crafted with the purpose of force feeding Canadian culture down your throat; they’re about love and society, the traits of what makes us human, oh and a song about Angola (but not really – it’s about grappling with the guilt of how over-privileged the white race has been throughout history).
Whether you liked Sam Roberts before or haven’t listened to him is irrelevant. This album only offers a slight hint of the band of old, the lead single and early parts of “Angola” being among a select few moments like that. But just as Viva La Vida
was for Coldplay, Lo-Fantasy
is a new era for the Sam Roberts Band; they are different now and deserve to be given a listen with a fresh unbiased set of ears. The final two songs are essentially complete departures from rock and full-fledged dives into pop territory. Closer “Golden Hour” gives you pretty much a taste of everything you got in this album all compressed into one gem of a song. I crave the energy this album brings; I don’t think I’ve heard as much energy on a Sam Roberts album as I did with the first five songs on this, what a strong start. For the first time since their sophomore album Chemical City
, I want an entire concert consisting of only this album being played. I want to be front-and-center out in the blazing sun wearing an obnoxious pair of fluorescent orange sunglasses and a tie-dyed wife-beater. I want to belt out every addicting and catchy chorus on Lo-Fantasy
alongside what would undoubtedly be a massive crowd of people. Sam, please help make my “Lo-Fantasy” a reality.
Human Heat, Metal Skin, Too Far, Angola