We Were Born in a Flame – Sam Roberts

We Were Born in a Flame

Sam Roberts

Universal Music Canada

2003

Sam Roberts (and his band) has been rising in the public’s eye for the past decade.  And in Canada, he’s been doing especially well.  His last album, Love at the End of the World, debuted at #1 on their charts.  Last year, he also won the Juno award for Artist of the Year.  The album before, Chemical City sold 10,000 copies in the first week, and reached #3 on the Canadian charts.  So, yes, he’s been doing quite well for himself lately.  It was with Chemical City that I first started listening to him, hearing the Beatlesque single “Bridge to Nowhere.” 

I admit, this is the very first time I’ve listened to We Were Born in a Flame.  This is Roberts’ first commercially successful album, landing him three Juno awards: Album of the Year, Rock Album of the Year, and Artist of the Year.  Yet, I’ve spent more time listening to Chemical City and even Love at the End of the World.  I feel guilty.  I obtained this first one a few years ago, when I began listening to him, but never actually even opened the CD.  And I missed out for so long.  While the album isn’t nearly as mature as his other two works, this album contains a definite raw energy, and shows how the band has developed over time.

“Hard Road” opens the album, beginning with a simple acoustic guitar.  When Roberts comes in vocally, the audience is treated to his powerful voice.  I really think that he has one of the best voices quality-wise in the past few years.  He has a very distinctive tonal quality, with a lower-register voice that is able to reach higher notes.  What really strikes me is his ability; he never sounds as if he’s straining at all, always easing into his melodies.  This particular song is a mid-tempo rocker, which shows off the basis for his songs.  He takes his influences from 1960’s and ’70’s classic rock, and puts his modern spin on them.  While this isn’t a track that breaks any ground, it still provides for an entertaining listen.

The next track is “Don’t Walk Away Eileen,” which has nothing to do with Dexys Midnight Runners luckily (I only bring this up because I had “TOO RYE OOH RYE AYE” stuck in my head in the early afternoon today, annoying me so much).  This is one of Roberts’ earlier works, appearing on The Inhuman Condition EP from 2002 (two other songs also are from that album, “Brother Down” and “Where Have All the Good People Gone”).  This song explodes with an exposed intensity, reminiscent of ’70’s punk.  With that in mind, Roberts incorporates that sound into his classic rock influence.  It’s a simplistic track, featuring power chords all over the place and a sing along chorus.  However, the immaturity that is apparent allows the song to be steeped in a naive idea of attacking how to create a Rock and Roll song.  It sounds fresh.

“Brother Down” was the first single from The Inhuman Condition, which was nominated for the Juno awards Single of the Year and New Artist of the Year.  The sound of the song is very familiar to Chemical City, with prominent acoustic chords, rolling bass lines, and even some keyboards.  This keyboard sound would be used to a great extent on the second album.  The lyrics are rather cliché ridden however (“You’re lookin’ for peace, but they’re bringin’ you war,” “I think my life is passing me by,” and “No reason to die, but no reason to care”).  These can be overlooked because the song is at least really catchy, and developed musically.

“Where Have All the Good People Gone?” is the fourth song.  It actually sounds much like Oasis’ “Go Let it Out” with the chords and the rhythm.  However, this song has a really heavy bass on it, creating a steady groove.  This does have better lyrics as well; I really like the imagery of “Oh, the milky way has gone a little sour.”  So far, this is my favorite song on here.

The fifth tune is “Taj Mahal.”  This is a slower song, with exceptional keyboards.  Surprisingly, the bass track is also really heavy.  This causes an inconsistency with the more melodic aspects of “Taj Mahal.”  A synthesizer produces strings and a horn sound, accentuating the vocal lines.  Overall, it’s an engaging song with a diverse quality to it.

“Every Part of Me” begins with an extremely effervescent bounce.  More keyboards later fill the background.  I’m just realizing that this album has much less electric guitars than Chemical City.  This is a very laid-back song, that would fit on that second album, but it’d need a guitar solo and / or a wurlitzerish keyboard sound.  It is a very fun song though, nothing wrong with it.

“Higher Learning” brings a more uptempo beat to the mix.  The riff gets a little annoying, as it uses a lot of two notes, and is all over the song.  However, this does have more electric guitar in it, which contradicts what I was just saying.  Well, not really, as this is an exception on the album so far.  I’m not saying there is no distorted guitars, just not as much as I’m used to.  It is rampant throughout the song, having a straightforward rocker finally.

“Rarefield” focuses a huge deal on the bass, a simplistic yet effective groove-establisher.  The guitars, drums, and vocals all build up from that one idea.  The intonation on the vocals of the song jumps from being extremely passive to excessively aggressive.  Meanwhile the bass line’s mantra-like repetition pretty much stays consistent throughout the entirety of “Rarefield.”  This shows that Roberts isn’t afraid of writing differently, or using peculiar techniques.

“On the Run” brings back the punk feel from earlier.  The fuzz bass comes to prominence on this track, with power chords accentuating the rhythm.  The song has lyrics such as “I would die for Rock and Roll” and “Do you believe in Rock and Roll?”  These may not be developed lyrics by any faction at all, but it does resemble what every adolescent male has gone through.  If I had heard this song when I was thirteen, it would’ve become sacred to me.

“No Sleep” is a slower song, with keyboards as the main instrument.  Looking at the Wikipedia page, Roberts actually played most of the instruments (except for drums) with only a few exceptions.  I’m going to take a guess and suggest that the keyboards on this song were played by Eric Fares, but I’m not sure at all.  I’m only suggesting that because there are guitar licks interspersed between vocal lines, and even a tasteful solo.  If I ever find out for sure who played what part, I will for sure update this page to be accurate.

The next two songs, “This Wreck of a Life” and “Dead End” are rather ‘meh’ songs.  The first one is semi-boring for nearly five minutes.  The latter has a countryish twang attached to it which doesn’t work.  At all.  I mean really.  It doesn’t fit at all on the album.

The last actual track on We Were Born in a Flame is “Paranoia.”  It’s a nice, slower song.  The melody is pretty, but for the most part, the vocals stay refined.  The music is allowed to let the mood of the song breathe, so to speak.  The guitar solo section is very tasteful, and the keyboards add to the effect as well.  Instead of forcing lyrics where they wouldn’t belong, Roberts hums every now and then, which is actually a nice touch.  The end of the song builds up in intensity and tempo.  If not for two bonus songs tacked on at the end of the album (on my version anyway), this would be a perfect way to end the record.

“When Everything Was Alright” and “This Is How I Live” are two bonus tracks from The Inhuman Condition.  Both are uptempo, heavier songs that do sound like they were recorded earlier than the rest of the album (which they were).  The first has a distorted riff that is played a lot, and numerous guitar solos are played (sometimes at the same time as each other).  However, the vocals are really important to focus on.  The harmonies are really close, but the notes that are picked are strange.  It’s a really cool idea, only because I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.  It doesn’t fit in with his more produced, developed songs, but it does sound really awesome.  The second song also has this strange harmony thing going on.  And while the music is less heavy the first bonus track, the words are really aggressive and raw.  They focus on a “fuck you” attitude attributed to one’s teenage years.  They even border on sexual puns with the phrase “I’m young, dumb, and ready to come […] alive” broken up.  And after the end of the song, we’re treated to a really immature “No way, motherfucker!” which actually adds to the song’s intensity.

Upon first listen, We Were Born in a Flame shows Sam Roberts at a really early stage.  The songs aren’t nearly as developed as his later albums, and many of the lyrics have some clichéd phrases.  But it is a solid, acceptable album that is very engaging with the listener.  There aren’t any really bad songs on the album, just ones that could’ve been made better.  But even at this  previous phase, Roberts shows a developing sense of musicality during the album.  He experiments with different styles and different production tricks, some which work, some which fail.  But it’s an engrossing listen which shows a musician from where he has evolved from.

Buy This Album

Official Site

Last.fm Page

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