An album primarily concerned with drinking, smoking, the passage of time, and deathless rock ‘n’ roll mythology, Japandroids’ second LP Celebration Rock felt for some of us like a paradigm-shifter back in 2012. With their wall-to-wall, shout-it-out anthems — in which very chorus is triumphant, every lyric is unabashedly purple, and no “whoa!” is left unfurled — the Canadian punk duo reshaped my expectations for what rock ‘n’ roll should be in the ’10s. Japandroids sent me scurrying back to the earnest rock records I had once loved and thought I had outgrown. They made me desperate to hear other new bands that were ready to carry the torch forward, no matter the prevailing trends. (Fortunately, there was a whole generation of them about to emerge.) After Celebration Rock, run-of-the-mill, fashion-plate indie-rock wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
I’ve likened Celebration Rock to a rock ‘n’ roll Pulp Fiction — it pinpointed all of the rock cliches that were seemingly exhausted, and reinvigorated every single one of them through sheer enthusiasm, making you feel the power of those conventions before they were cheapened and nearly discarded forever.
The problem is, where do you go after that? The simplicity of Japandroids’ approach — one guitarist, one drummer, one (extremely excitable) emotional mode — was a big part of what made Celebration Rock so exciting. But it’s also inherently limiting. As great as Celebration Rock is — I’d argue it’s among the four or five best rock albums of the decade — it seemed to have painted Japandroids into a corner.
However, I’m thrilled to report that what seemed to be true about Japandroids has in fact proven not be the case. The group’s first LP in almost five years, Near To The Wild Heart of Life, is a minor miracle, marking a definite progression from Celebration Rock without sacrificing what made Japandroids so magical in the first place. It’s the rare follow-up to a classic release that evolves just enough.