Review Summary: There's nobility in being teenaged, intoxicated and utterly invincible.
On “The Nights of Wine and Roses” Matt King asks “Don’t we have anything to live for? Well, of course we do/ But ’til they come true, we’re drinking.” So begins Celebration Rock, the spectacular cathartic outpouring from King and David Prowse, a Vancouver indie rock duo whose huge guitar sound and pummeling drumming style, coupled with their tendency to cram shout along hooks into every available inch of their songs, makes Japandroids one of those special two-man combos (see the White Stripes, Black Keys and No Age) capable of sounding bigger than a band twice their size. It’s a hungry, magnificent record, and aptly named, because it’s about celebrating the moments (mostly nocturnal ones) that make life so awe-inspiringly full when you’re young. Sure, rock music history is littered with albums that lionize the pleasures of youth unfettered, but rarely do they sound this earnest and meaningful.
Celebration Rock wears it’s heart on its sleeve more than indie rock album I’ve heard in a long time. With breakneck vigor and a hint of romance, King proclaims “We all wanna know what nobody knows, what the nights of wine and roses holds” then one song later on “Fire’s Highway” finds the answer “We dreamed it/Now we know.” These songs are filled with other fiery metaphors for young lives including “roman candles,” “bonfires” and “burning cigarettes” which smolder as their owners “cry like hell to the heavens.” It’s like Born to Run except where Springsteen hung his adolescent hopes on street cars, King and Prowse do so on fireworks and beer bottles. And while you could imagine such a thing might sound sophomoric, there’s something inspiring about the sort of music that will goad both hipsters and frat boys to bounce around deliriously, arm-in-arm on the same concert floor.
Celebration Rock took almost three years to put together, but there’s not an ounce of fat on its wiry frame. At eight tracks, it delivers a tightly coiled punch which perfectly offsets the grandiosity of the songs. Nearly every song has a barn burner hook that sticks in your brain, and the album is perfectly sequenced so you won’t need to skip a track. It’s the kind of record that delivers pure, concentrated rock bliss from start to finish like Weezer’s Blue Album, Built to Spill’s Perfect From Now On, or Radiohead’s The Bends (“Evil’s Sway” even nicks the chord progression from “High and Dry.”)
On “Adrenaline Nightshift,” King insists “there’s no high like this” and it’s hard not to concur when Japandroids cranks out anthem after anthem, all of which are originals except a ferocious version of the The Gun Club’s rockabilly punk classic “For the Love of Ivy.” While it’s a macabre tale of wrongs righted through violence, the track’s playfulness and energy fit right in with everything else on Celebration Rock. The album peaks with “The House That Heaven Built,” a tour de force of Prowse’s clobbering drums and King’s monster riffage --- it’s a juggernaut of a song, an apex that the entire album speeds toward.
Yet just as powerful and perhaps more emblematic of Japandroids’ take-on-the-world attitude is “Younger Us,” an older track that first surfaced in 2010. It nails a generation’s brash exuberance when King screams “Remember that time when you were already in bed, said *** it, got up to drink with me instead.” The sentiment is more compelling than the same youthful recklessness found in Fun’s “We Are Young” or The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood,” largely because Japandroids possess something these other groups don’t --- the perspective that comes from maturity. Pushing 30, King and Prowse are already indie rock veterans who’ve been through those insane years when anything goes --- they can still go on world-class benders but recognize the fleeting glory of their debauchery. “Younger Us” is a “My Generation” for indie rock, except Japandroids don’t wanna die before they get old, they just want to party forever.
While bombastic, consistent and thematically similar, Celebration Rock is short enough and the songwriting good enough that it never feels formulaic. It’s a snapshot of that brilliant moment when the party goes supernova and you are in the center or it --- teenaged, intoxicated and utterly invincible. It’s about the rush that twenty-somethings get when howling at the moon, minus the consequence of waking up in the lawn the next morning. As fragile and ephemeral as these moments might be, Celebration Rock makes them feel like the Parthenon. It’s a monument to the unquenchable spirit of youth, and those nights when your glass is full, your friends are all with you, and the future is filled with unending promise.
Indie rock provocateur Calvin Johnson from the Beat Happening once wrote: “I know the secret of rock n’ roll. [It's] a teenaged sport meant to be played by teenagers of all ages --- they could be 15, 25 or 35. It all boils do to whether they’ve got…that beautiful teenage spirit.” For all the mileage on their tires, King and Prowse have got it in spades. Japandroids’ vitality and devil-may-care fearlessness is infectious --- they make the chaos and delinquency of adolescence sound almost noble. If you’re worried about being too old to appreciate Celebration Rock, trust me --- if you were young once, you’ll get it too.