By Scott Harvey, Contributor
Japandroids have always been one of those indie bands on the cusp of making it big but, at first, they couldn’t quite reach the top of the mountain. Then came the Canadian duo’s 2012 album “Celebration Rock” and suddenly Spin, a magazine and website, was calling Japandroids the “Band of the Year.” The album almost immediately turned Brian King and David Prowse into household names. Well, at least in really cool households. Triumphant singles like “The House That Heaven Built” and “The Nights of Wine and Roses” showcased the duo’s seamless fusion of Zeppelin-esque classic rock and the grungy punk of The White Stripes or The Kills.
Now, five years later, their long awaited follow-up is here and it wisely departs very little from what made “Celebration Rock” so successful. The titular track, also the album’s first single, kicks things off with no shortage of blood and thunder. “It got me all fired up!” shouts King on the anthemic chorus. You can certainly say the same about the song, which is easily the band’s best to date and one of the best fist-pumping rockers of the last decade.
“Near to the Wild Heart of Life” is a hard act for the album’s other seven tracks to follow, but the track which does follow it immediately, “North East South West,” roars nearly as loudly. It’s a reflective ode to King and Prowse’s homeland of Canada and the respite it provides from the tribulations of an exhausting U.S. tour. It’s a theme that reappears on “Midnight to Morning,” where the line “bring me back home to you” becomes a battle cry for anyone who’s ever suffered a particularly nasty bout of separation anxiety.
Despite all their sound and fury, Japandroids have commentary to make on love as well. “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” is a distorted love song that sounds admittedly out of place in the grand scheme of the album. More successful is the charging “No Drink or Drug,” which tells of a “red ammo romance in the summer heat.” “No known drink, no known drug can hold a candle to your love” proclaims King to the “cool, hard beauty” of whose virtues the song extols.
It’s clear that Japandroids are trying to capture a timeless sound, but they do so with varying degrees of success. Closer “In a Body Like a Grave” is a working-class anthem that has at its heart the driving force of a song by Springsteen, Petty and other auteurs of the genre. But the proggy “Arc of Bar,” feels overly ambitious and wears out its welcome (as songs described as “proggy” are prone to do).
Overall, Japandroids is a band still struggling to find cohesion in the context of a full album. But, at their best, they can produce songs which feel simultaneously nostalgic and modern. “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” falls short of greatness but it has some undeniably outstanding moments, particularly on the title track. It’s worth a listen for any lover of good, meat and potatoes rock and roll.
Standout Tracks: “Near to the Wild Heart of Life,” “North East South West,” “In A Body Like A Grave”