The best way to approach Japandroids’ second studio album is to deconstruct its name. Celebration Rock. At first glance, it sure seems like a statement of purpose, or perhaps a helpful hint: here you go, people, now go rage. That would seem to be backed up by the first track on the record, the shout-until-your-lungs-bleed anthem “The Night of Wine and Roses.” I mean, it even starts with a burst of fireworks. With lyrics of debauchery and revelations-through-partying, the song kicks off the record at 11, but it’s the last line of what stands in for a chorus that reveals what exactly Japandroids are celebrating: “We don’t cry for those nights to arrive/ We yell like hell to the heavens.” It’s our old friend nostalgia, taking center stage like the diva that she is. There’s nothing more nostalgic to the Canadian duo than that perfect night with your best buds, laughing until you realize that the sun is coming up and none of you can drive because you had one too many cans of shitty beer.
The seven tracks that follow, however, come with a pleasant surprise: Japandroids have grown up. It’s not all about the party anymore, but about the day after when you’re trying to figure out what to do next. And that may be the best example of celebrating nostalgia: you don’t cry for it, wanting it to be back. Instead, you live for creating new moments, perhaps with new friends because your friends from high school have stopped calling and perhaps with less drugs because you’re an adult now and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Japandroids’ The House That Heaven Built
So then what about the Rock part of the title? Well, that’s simpler to understand: this album is as pure of a rock album as there has been in recent years. Guitars soar without reaching cheesy classic rock levels, and the drums move in double time throughout. Singer Brian King has the requisite amount of passion for singing about good times with good people, but there’s a bit of angst in his voice. It’s not Cloud Nothings-level of angst (the other contender for best rock album of 2012 so far), to be sure, but this is a man who clearly has a lot of passion for his subjects and, perhaps more importantly, for his audience.
Celebration Rock is a populist album, that’s for sure. One can’t imagine the recording of this didn’t involve a completely conscious decision to make this album as fun as possible. “For The Love Of Ivy” is a punk rock jam, complete with starts and stops and a chorus that seems to have been recorded after a weekend bender. It’s easy to see Japandroids playing this record front-to-back at a basement party, one where King’s guitar accidentally hits someone in the front row but no one cares because isn’t this fun? David Prowse’s drumming deserves a special note here, for it gives this song its power and its fury, obliterating whatever bad vibes you came into it with.
So, it’s a celebration, and it rocks. Simple enough? With Japandroids, simple has grown to mean something different entirely: enthralling. Coming in at 35 minutes, Celebration Rock doesn’t overstay its welcome, knowing exactly when to peak, when to valley, and perhaps more importantly, when to end. The last two tracks on the album coexist as the perfect bookend to a thrill ride of sonic ecstasy. “The House That Heaven Built” is their opus, the song that, if the world is fair, we will remember them for years from now, when we’re remembering those nights when it blasted as we took shots and looked at each other with lust (hey look, it’s nostalgia again). After a barrage of “OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH!” the meat of the chorus, and perhaps the duo’s entire career, kicks in: “When they love you, and they will/ Tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow/ And if they try to slow you down/ Tell ‘em all to go to hell”. There’s agency here, a real sense of controlling who you are and what you’re about, and it’s all deliriously happy. Youth’s energy doesn’t fade, it only evolves within each of us, and if someone disagrees? Fuck them. As that song transitions slowly into “Continuous Thunder,” you’re ready to go rule the world, or at least your world. It is perfectly encapsulated in King’s final query: “If I had all of the answers/ and you had the body you wanted/ would we love with a legendary fire?/ And if the cold, pissing rain flooded that fire/ would you still take my hand tonight?” We’re not perfect, but our flame? It couldn’t be better, because it’s ours and it’s always there.
By Luis Paez-Pumar
OurVinyl | Contributor