Pruning next month’s concert calendar for the not-to-be-missed
Japandroids’ Celebration Rock begins and ends with fireworks, though a variety unendowed with any of the magic or thrill implied by the word. No wailing rockets or bellowing explosions; just a dim, anemic crackling. However, between these bookends of audible anticlimax, plays out one of the most enchantingly energetic rock albums of the year so far.
Opening track “The Nights of Wine and Roses” proudly announces the attitude of the album. “We drink we smoke/ we burn our plans to the ground/ we don’t cry for those nights to arrive/ we yell to the heavens/ we’ll sleep when we’re dead,” insists the garage rock duo, Brian King and David Prowse.
Already it’s a far cry from the tone their 2008 debut, Post Nothing, which lamented “we used to dream/ now we worry about dying.” Those pathetic fireworks feel miles behind.
Celebration Rock really kicks into gear with the opening chord to its second track, “Fire’s Highway“. Immediately recognizable and emotionally loaded, it is a more aggressive reprisal of the signature progression in “Free Fallin‘,” Tom Petty’s iconic tribute to terminal velocity and the girl that had to be ditched in pursuit thereof.
The Petty song smacks of automobile culture — the adrenaline rush of stepping on the gas, the allure of aimless drives – and the longings underlying Celebration Rock are much the same. But unlike Petty, Japandroids are not so much the cool driver as the chemical reaction occurring in the engine – an ongoing combustion, the steadiness and finitude of which is belied by the heat and random motion produced as by-product.
Throughout the course of the album, Japandroids rage on through fist pumping anthemic rock and bristling punk. All the beloved 90s alt rock trademarks are there: the fuzzy, interweaving guitar crescendo in “Adrenaline Nightshift”, the mosh-pit pacing of “Younger Us“.
Entropy metaphors notwithstanding, Celebration Rock demonstrates a marked advancement in songwriting sophistication over Post Nothing. Rollicking garage rock numbers like “The Nights of Wine and Roses” may not seem all that different from past standouts like “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” but when Japandroids slow it down, emotional nuance crops up in ways not seen before.
Album finale “Continuous Thunder,” occupying a surprising sweet spot somewhere between Guided By Voices and late Green Day, steadily pulls the listener through a landscape of tender memories, leading right up to the at once harrowing and compelling crossroads of possibilities that is the present. “If I had all the answers/ and you had the body you wanted/ would we love with a legendary fire?” asks the singer.
So many well-placed key shifts suffuse the song with alternating waves of hope and doubt, eventually delivering this racing combustion engine of an album back to the lackluster fireworks display at which it started, just in time for the crackles to peter out.