Snapshot Review: Japandroids – Celebration Rock [Polyvinyl]
Japandroids are a band with an expiration date. The Vancouver duo crafted their last album Post-Nothing with the thought they’d be breaking up soon thereafter, having not found success in the relatively unsupportive music scene of their hometown. That record was in essence a mission statement from two guys that had nothing left to lose and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Well, it seems that glory found them, because their song “Young Hearts Spark Fire” did as its title described and ignited the passions of rock fans across the globe. The entire album actually did wonders for the band, and two years of touring with large crowds suddenly made returning to a much more normal, non-music life a far less appealing option. As much as they dislike recording, it remains an essential part of any artist’s shelf life to keep generating new material. So with the exact same collection of people, instruments and rules they had on their last album, Japandroids set out to see if lightning could strike twice. Celebration Rock is the result. While the artwork, 8 song track list and running time might well have been photocopied from Post-Nothing, the songs themselves represent a very important progression for the band. First and foremost, the very internal and personal nature of the songs has been excised to focus on bigger emotions and an outward projection. The tortured thoughts of two guys on the verge of imploding their band have been replaced by songs about other people, possibly you, that want to live and party and lust and take revenge – sometimes all at the same time. The music plays along with that vibe too; there’s a distinct hunger and energy present in Brian King’s guitar riffs and Dave Prowse’s drumming that’s designed for bigger and better things. Whereas before they were making music for themselves, now they’re making it for their fans. Opening track “The Nights of Wine and Roses” sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the record, saying we’re all drinking and smoking and spending time with friends while waiting for the big and important moments in our lives to finally arrive. The lesson learned in the end is that those big and important moments are the ones where you’re waiting. The supercharged kick in the teeth that starts the album holds up in all its headbanging, devil horns and mosh pit glory through “Fire’s Highway”, “Evil’s Sway” and an effervescent cover of Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy”. They truly epitomize what the album’s title is all about. At the halfway point however, a shift takes place that changes the dynamic of the record. Rather than racing for the finish line in blistering fashion, they temper the energy only slightly and go for more of an emotional and nostalgic approach. “Adrenaline Nightshift” evokes some of the best moments The Replacements ever had sonically while tapping into abstract imagery like “a blitzkrieg love and a Roman candle kiss” and espousing that “there’s no high like this.” A similar mentality is tackled in “Younger Us”, reflecting back on youthful indiscretions with a bunch of “remember when”‘s and “thinking that this feeling was never gonna end.” But those two tracks really wind up as stepping stones for “The House That Heaven Built”, a crossroads at which the band’s intense instrumentals and recent lyrical prowess collide at their peaks. As the song chugs along with sheer purpose, King sings like he’s just achieved a newfound clarity and confidence in his life and wants to pass such wisdom onto us. “If they try to slow you down/tell ‘em all to go to hell,” he professes like a man that has broken through all of his boundaries and is utterly ecstatic at the possibilities that lie before him. If that doesn’t suck you in, the hook most assuredly will. Celebration Rock ends on a ballad, or at least something that turns the speed and noise down from 11 to maybe a 9.5. “Continuous Thunder” is about the electricity between two people and the question of whether they can salvage their tenuous relationship. It might not be the happiest song on the record, but it does strive to keep the same sense of boldness and conviction as everything else. As the guitars finally drift off gently into that good night, the album’s final seconds are the same as its first: the sound of fireworks. We use those pyrotechnics only in the most joyous and exclamatory circumstances, such as weddings or after a home run in baseball. On Celebration Rock, Japandroids knock one out of the park.