Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A case for modern classic rock

Play it: Sam Roberts Chemical City
Play it: The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers

Notice how most 'classic rock' these days is played by the classic artists? Oh sure, there's plenty of retro-rockers out there, but they're all very focused in mining specific territory (garage blues, led zep, etc.) I'm talking a more generalized classic rock here, and that's the ground that Sam Roberts' Chemical City covers here, running from Dylan to the Stones to the Beatles and more in between.

Roberts' last album (We Were Born In a Flame) should (and one day may still be) considered a classic, full of Beatlesque melodies and toe-tapping shout-outs. With Chemical City, Roberts sounds even more entrenched in classic rockism, sounding (and looking - with the requisite beard) like he should be cast in a sequel to Almost Famous. "The Gate" opens the album with some tasty psychedelic-rock, the kind that you could imagine Canadian hero Tom Cochrane's Red Rider would do if they were in their hey-day now (play "Lunatic Fringe.") Much of Roberts' poppier side is less visible here, which may disappoint some fans (namely, my wife.) As a result, it's not a collection of singles like WWBIAF, but instead a more coherent album. The better songs this time are less accessible, take the loud-soft dynamics and guitar-freak out of a song like "Mind Flood," which one can imagine just burning the stage live (which, I might point out, I'll be missing this Memorial Day weekend at Sasquatch... anyone going?) Nothing groundbreaking here, just good classic rock with meaty lyrics to match, and I couldn't really ask Sam for anything more.

The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers also finds itself covering the full sweep of classic rock as well, but more on a song to song basis. Separately, Jack White and Brendan Benson mine pretty specific 60's guitar rock - White with the Stones and Led Zeppelin and Benson with the Rubber Soul/Revolver era of the Beatles. Together, they trade vocals, often sounding like each other (see "Level,") and add splashes here and there to each other's idiom, with the rhythm section from the Greenhornes anchoring the duo handily. "I'm adding something new to your mixture, so there's a different hue to your picture," sings Benson on "Together" which could be about their collaboration (if it weren't about a girl - and it's always about a girl, isn't it?) Highlights include the power pop of the Joe Jackson homage "Steady as She Goes" and "Intimate Secretary" and the Led Zep fix of "Broken Boy Soldiers." As often with Benson, it's sometimes hard to get past some of the inane lyrics ("I've got a rabbit, it likes to hop / I've got a girl, she likes to shop" in "Intimate Secretary,") but if you can, it's a fun album.

Another last tidbit: I was intrigued to find, that many expected roles were reversed. For instance, Benson plays all the slide guitar on the album while White plays the synth - this is a recent revelation, so I'm going back and listening to it again w/ new visuals.

More (UPDATED:)
MTV Interview with Sam Roberts (05/19/2006)

Previously:
Is she really going steady as she goes? (The Raconteurs' "Steady as She Goes"
It's all about Jack (Greenhornes review / Raconteurs preview)
Pop! goes the playlist (Brendan Benson / Power-pop revival)
Making time with Star Time (Benson's label)
Sam Roberts Award (best album released year prior seeing US release a year later)

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2 comments:

drake leLane said...

Sam Roberts Chemical City

1. The Gate
2. Bridge To Nowhere
3. With A Bullet
4. Mind Flood
5. Uprising Down Under
6. Mystified, Heavy
7. An American Draft Dodger In Thunder Bay
8. The Bootleg Saint
9. The Resistance
10. A Stone Would Cry Out

drake leLane said...

The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers

1. Steady, As She Goes
2. Hands
3. Broken Boy Soldier
4. Intimate Secretary
5. Together
6. Level
7. Store Bought Bones
8. Yellow Sun
9. Call It a Day
10. Blue Veins