Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Check out Sam Roberts

There are two kinds of obscure musicians. The first kind is obscure on purpose. He basically does whatever is neccesary to not sell records, whether it’s recording albums full of feedback and monkey noises or getting drunk on stage and berating the audience for applauding too much. Most people hate him, but a select few passionately don’t hate him and fool people into buying his albums by writing hyperbolic reviews in hip music magazines.

The second kind of obscure musician is like Sam Roberts, a pop-rocker whose second album “Chemical City” is one of my favorite CDs of the year. Roberts is obscure for no reason whatsoever. He writes easy-to-understand rock songs, sings like Paul McCartney and comes across like a decent guy in interviews. Oh, and his music is really, really good, too.

Initially I was tempted to dock Roberts a few points because he makes rather basic T-shirt-and-jeans classic rock, and it seemed a little too easy. But that straight-forwardness is precisely Roberts’ appeal. “Chemical City” is the equivilant of a really well-made action movie. Roberts takes a formula that’s been done death and makes it entertaining one more time. (The title even sounds a little like an action movie.)

With its sharp hooks and production slicker than Pat Riley, “Chemical City” clearly was made with the radio in mind. In other words, there’s nothing here the average matchbox twenty or Nickelback fan can’t understand and like after hearing a few times. Unfortunately, Roberts probably couldn’t pack the men’s room at the local bus station, much less the friendly neighborhood rock club, in most cities. While Roberts is largely unknown in this country, the Montreal native has been a star in his native Canada since his fine debut “We Were Born in a Flame” was released in 2004.

Quick sidenote: Canada has produced some of the decade’s best rock bands, most notably the New Pornographers and Arcade Fire. There also are old-schoolers like Sloan, who failed to make a name in the U.S. despite making a series of wonderful power-pop albums in the late ’90s and early ’00s. (If you can find 1996’s “One Chord to Another” or 1998’s “Navy Blues” and you like white dude guitar rock, buy them immediately.)

Don’t let Sam Roberts be the next Canadian rocker us Americans don’t get. If we embraced Bryan Adams, we can embrace this guy.


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