Review Summary: Three years after their debut, Japandroids return with more of the same. But is that a bad thing?Celebration Rock
points to the sky and pants, bursting through the finishing banner to the backing of firework snap, crackle and pop. Seven tracks powered by the ceaseless heartbeat of impulse finally culminate in an eighth track of jelly-legged exhaustion. Every last drop of strength is dug up from a thirsty reserve; it’s one foot in front of the other in a tremendous display of will, of desire, of self-belief. ‘Continuous Thunder’ signs Japandroids off with a different type of epic than that which they’ve become known for. It’s patient, restrained, and apprehensive, with one eye on the future rather than both on snatching the present. It’s the perfect ending to a blistering record. And as the last firework bursts I am filled to bursting with internal conflict.
From first to final explosion in the sky, I am tugged at the collar by the feeling something isn’t right. Huge, visceral sound? Check. Lyrics that make you want to pop the champagne on a Tuesday afternoon? Check. Group chants, gritty distortion and goosebump moments? Check, check, and check again. It’s all there. Here is the soundtrack to a one-way flight, the overture to a naked drunken plunge into the ocean. And yet, and yet… I was looking for something more. Greedy? Maybe. But why not? Why shouldn’t we demand development from our favourite bands? And the retort: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But that’s more than just a cheap idiom; this Vancouver duo are bloody awesome at what they do. Celebration Rock
follows the path that its predecessor set, and in doing so discovers the same well of strength that allowed the Post-Nothing
believers to bend the bars of caution and step out into the world of life-affirming risks.
The strangest thing, for me, is that this this simple, singular, self-assured message of opportunism – this message which fits so snugly into the tapestry of my own life-philosophy – leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth. I want to tell the boys to grow up, to become real men, to learn that life isn’t all about partying fireworks sex singing at the top of your lungs yeah yeah yeah yeah. We heard them sing about the exact same things three years ago. There are more important risks than these, risks with far more at stake, and sometimes, those risks, they backfire. My internal confliction shoehorns in the riposte: if you want songs about that ***, listen to another band. And, further, how can you make epic, anthemic, youth-celebrating songs about crippling fear, about crushing regret, about deathless cynicism, about being a fully rounded human, warts and all? But then: the best bands do.
But then, but then: this is only Japandroids’ second full-length, and they are not trying to change the world. They are two best friends who are singing when they’re winning, and keeping quiet when they’re not. Well, not quite. Unfortunately for my sanity, they aren’t that simple. They had attempted the sadder song on Post-Nothing
: ‘I Quit Girls’ was a noisy, distorted, tidy mess of a song which lamented the trust placed in a certain female, a trust which was subsequently abused. Here was a risk which backfired to the extent the entire female population was ‘quit’. And it was beautiful. We do see a hint of this realism on ‘Continuous Thunder’, but it is only a hint. There is so much of the same here that it becomes a suffocation of motivation; ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’, especially in its track-position, may have been far better off as a hypothetical ‘Apathy Nights’, winding down for a moment with the same sludgy sound heard on ‘Crazy/Forever’ or ‘I Quit Girls’. Ironically, though, Celebration Rock
appears to suffer from a fear of risk: the risk of upsetting the masses by evoking a wider, and thus darker, spectrum of emotions.
Don’t get me wrong, Celebration Rock
is near-perfect in what it sets out to do: making people happy, bringing them together. Every track has a way of finding the dormant smile behind your face, whether that’s by its huge group chanting, its massive trigger moments, its nostalgic, inspiring lyrics, or King’s insurgent vocals. The improved production helps too, and is immediately evident on opener ‘The Nights of Wine and Roses’; yet there is no feeling of yearning for the old, messier, DIY sound. They incorporate that into the new by way of the throaty chants and fuzzy layers of distortion colouring outside the lines. They’ve also not lost their ability to create a massive song a la ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’. ‘The House that Heaven Built’ appears to run on the sparks of defiance, with endorphins the overflowing by-product; it’s a four-minute-fifty powerhouse of inspiration, with the roared verses giving way to the line of the year in the song’s chorus: “If they try to slow you down / Tell ‘em all to go to hell.” But the biggest thing you take away from ‘The House That Heaven Built’ is the most important: King and Prowse absolutely love making music together, and that love has been poured into the music they make. That’s key, and it keeps Japandroids alive.
This internal conflict I speak of is surely not mine and mine alone, but for all of us who are feeling this way, we’d do well to not keep comparing Japandroids to that one annoying, shallow friend who constantly wants to party and wants you to party with him. Unlike him, you can have these guys around when you want and put them away when you don’t. And unlike him, these guys are simply doing what they love rather than avoiding reality. You could argue that those two can overlap, but I’m done arguing. For once, I’m not going to discard that classic crude argument: I am going to sit back, stop thinking, and ‘just enjoy it, man.’