'Smile Wide' - Roam / Turned Up Louder
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
In today’s social climate, it is often easy to feel that remaining down-and-out is our only option. Be it on a personal level, being ground down by a job you hate or the weight of unfulfilled potential, or on a grander scale of feeling let down by society as a whole, a lack of hope is an ever-spreading epidemic. However, if those feelings at all resonate with you, then Eastbourne quintet Roam have provided their form of a solution in the form of their third full-length record, aptly entitled ‘Smile Wide’. Guitarist and backing vocalist Alex Adam encapsulated this perfectly: “It’s about feeling like a puppet in someone else’s game, and they’re making decisions you don’t agree with, it’s about taking that control back and not letting people walk all over you anymore.”. And Roam certainly haven’t let anyone wrench this record from their grasp. Flirting with elements of nu-metal, as well as a grittier punk sound in places, Roam are firmly resisting the restrictive boundaries of genre and exploring unchartered new creative pathways for themselves.
The first glimpse of this new record that the world was given came in the form of lead single ‘I Don’t Think I Live There Anymore’, which boasts the soaring vocal lines that have become one of Roam’s hallmarks. However, the slightly more brittle guitars which compliments the idiosyncratically airy melody is a sneak preview of the upward trajectory of musical development upon which the band are continuing. Danceable, with a thin hidden veil of edge buried beneath the summery guitars, this is the perfect lead single to transition listeners into this next evolution of Roam. Following on with a classic rock lilt to the melody line is the lyrically potent ‘Piranha’, which blends twanging guitars with a funk-tinged groove to the melody. The coming of the bridge plunges deeper into a crispier blend of layered guitars, juxtaposed delectably with the soaring vocal line, which highlights the grungy, reverberating, big rock facet of the instrumentation wonderfully.
Experimentation with the instrumentation also features across several tracks on ‘Smile Wide’. The piercing lead guitar line of ‘LOUD’ carries some subtle nu-metal echoes drawn through the fabric of the track like a thin thread, as gang vocals bubble up here and there, packed with a sense of cliché which is only partially self-aware. While this is a step-down in tempo from the breakneck pace of some of their best-loved tracks, ‘LOUD’ brings something crisper and darker than anything in their current discography, establishing Roam as a band fervent in pushing at the boundaries of genre convention. Grittier still is the reverberating guitars in the opening of ‘Play Dumb’, as off-kilter drum rhythms pitch and pull you through the verses, giving way to a crushing chorus that pounds away at your ears, with haunting vocal effects flitting at the edges. This is the most assertive we have seen Roam in a long while, in spite of frontman Alex Costello’s consistently elevating vocals, and this darker mantle definitely suits them!
In particular, on the record’s most rousing tracks. Opening with a softly floating swathe of notes as smooth as satin, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Hand Grenade’ takes up the position of ballad-in-chief (a title held on their previous two LPs – 2016’s ‘Backbone’, and it’s follow up ‘Great Heights & Nosedives’- by fan-favourite ‘Tracks’, and ‘Curtain Call’ respectively). However, the illusion is only left to linger for mere seconds, before a wave of pure punk-rock guitars come bursting to the fore! Driven by a thumping kick drum and relentless bassline, the chorus may be a good deal poppier than their genre predecessors, however a combination of the hand-grenade iconography and a guitar line that ducks and dives as much as it grumbles along makes allusions to certain genre titans so well-founded that their name need not even be mentioned (even more so than the band’s cover of ‘Basket Case’ several years previously!). Similarly less airy and fanciful than previous releases is opener ‘Better In Than Out’, with its rich roundness to the bassline and fist-pumping chorus, which is the track’s real highlight. The tumultuous build of rumbling drums and raucous gang vocals into the final reprise is irrefutably smile-inducing: so far, Roam are scoring top points for nomenclature!
At times, however, some of that wonderful zest seems to fall a little flat. While the groove is instantaneous at the opening of ‘The Fire On The Ceiling’, the depth of the melody isn’t as full-bodied as some of its predecessors: and while the bridge already leaves space for a rapturous audience to fill with claps, the urge to add your own percussion to the tumult is somewhat minimal. Continuing the fantasy iconography from their previous release, lyrically, ‘Toy Box’ is not their strongest effort. While the oodling of the lead guitar is balanced in a poised manner by the low trembling of the bassline, the lack of a gut-wrenching hook means this track pales a little when set aside it’s fellows.
That being said, the powerful message that blazes beneath this record cannot be understated. Roam prove themselves to be big fans of a stereo-effect guitar, as they make an appearance yet again on ‘Red & Blue’. The verse is garnished with the warbling lead guitar preferred by many a new-age pop punk outfit, but matched by an accompanying guitar that is both prickly and punchy enough to force its way into focus- a testament to the advantages of fortifying a band with multiple guitarists, and a beautiful (whether intentional or otherwise!) reflection of the track’s title. Burgeoning feelings of hope bleed through this dichotomy, however, in the lyricism which inspired the album’s title- a promise that, no matter how downtrodden one might feel, better days are on the horizon, just waiting to be lived. Swaying into the album’s finale is closer ‘Turn’. Americana-esque filters lay placidly over the melody, with its warbling lead guitar given a dash of psychedelic colour as it wends its way through wavering distortion. This is a world away from the scrappy pop punk EPs of Roam’s early days, however, at its core, the message remains the same- promoting hope in times of adversity, and fixing your sights firmly on the better days to come. Roam are a band who once mused ‘I’m not tired of sleeping on the floor, I just want to know when it ends’- a sense of yearning for the better days in which their convictions have grown even stronger, now that it is abundantly clear that they have arrived.
'Smile Wide' is out on September 6th via Hopeless Records.
Check out the video for the album's second single, 'Piranha', below:
Roam will be touring the UK in support of 'Smile Wide' this autumn, alongside Australian pop punkers With Confidence- dates can be found below, and tickets are available here: