The last time we heard from Japandroids on the excellent Post-Nothing, they were singing “we used to dream, now we worry about dying.” The sense of prematurely fearing the end of youth appears to have been abandoned in favor of a laissez-faire attitude on their new release. The album title says it all really. This is Celebration Rock. It opens with the lines “We’re still drinking. Don’t we have anything to live for? Well of course we do but until it comes true, we’re drinking.” The album does not have any pretensions of reinventing the wheel, and as far as musical diversity goes it actually draws from a narrower pallet than the more varied Post-Nothing, but the album feels like it was exclusively recorded to be played very loud at a venue near you.
On first listen, that does feel like something of a disappointment. “The Nights of Wine and Roses” gets things going with the opening sound of fireworks, literally rather than figuratively. The drums are pushed further forward in the mix than last time, and the production values are marginally better, but otherwise it does feel like business as usual. “Fire’s Highway” tries to glide on its chorus line of “Hearts will now collide on fire’s highway tonight,” but it sounds like their previous hit “Young Hearts Spark Fire” without all of that song’s spark or fire. “Evil’s Sway” has a slightly lackluster call and response chorus, and “For The Love Of Ivy” is an ill-advised cover showcasing a more brutal side to the band that doesn’t suit them.
After a few listens, however, the album’s charms become apparent. What at first sounds a little flat ends up revealing itself as anthemic in a manner Japandroids was apparently aiming for all along. Brian King’s guitars are layered in a more subtle way than they first appeared to be, and the strength of songwriting is evident even if most of the eight tracks present do utilize the same few ingredients.
Most of all, there is the album’s second half, a four song punch that is worth the price of admission alone. “Younger Us” may have been used before, and lyrically it does sound closest to the Japandroids of old with its worrying about aging to the point where being in a rock band and constantly touring just isn’t viable anymore. It was worth revisiting, though, as it’s arguably better than anything on Post-Nothing and is a good fit for Celebration Rock. “Adrenalin Nightshift” contains some of the album’s best guitar work and is driven along by some pounding drums that take the album up a notch exactly when it needed it. Album closer “Continuous Thunder” (an apt description of the album as it happens) is the first time the foot is taken off the pedal, but Japandroids’ idea of a power ballad is the perfect comedown for the half hour of mayhem that came before.
And then there is “The House That Heaven Built,” which is either the release the whole album has been building towards, the best song Japandroids have written, or simply the best rock song to be released in some time. It has that unique ability to sound like the best time you have ever had and is blessed with a spirit of defiance best summarized in the lyric “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give / but you’re not mine to die for anymore so I must live.” Its attitude is so perfectly matched to its relentless momentum, and the track provides an extraordinary moment that encapsulates everything these two guys can do pushed to its limits, especially in Brian King’s strained vocals that squeeze out every word with furious passion.
So that’s Celebration Rock. There are eight songs here. One you have probably heard before. One is a pretty poor cover. One is a rock song for the ages. The rest of the album consists of songs played with bags of heart even without a huge amount of variety, and it’s this dedication to the cause that makes the band so inherently likeable. Most of all, as I said at the beginning of this review, this simply sounds like one very elaborate advert for their live show. I have my ticket, and I’ll see you down at the front. I’ll be the one bouncing up and down like tomorrow isn’t going to happen. Japandroids wouldn’t have it any other way.