REVIEW: Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Celebration Rock. Talk about a loaded title. Frankly, if you’re going to name your album “Celebration Rock,” you had better deliver the damn goods1 or be prepared to suffer the pinpricks of a million easy jokes at the hands of bored reviewers and snarky Internet commenters. Fortunately for all of us, Japandroids more than deliver on the premise of their audacious title. Indeed, Celebration Rock is more than the title of Japandroids’ sophomore album – it is a full throttle, fist pumping, balls to the wall mission statement.

In one of life’s interesting twists, it was a statement that almost wasn’t made. After failing to get any traction with a couple of EPs, the duo (Bryan King and David Prowse) figured that their first full length, 2009’s Post-Nothing, would also be their last. But then the album picked up fans, the fans started attending shows, and, before long Bryan and David were grappling with the challenge of penning a follow up rather than disbanding as planned. It was, by all accounts, a difficult (though not unwelcome) shift in expectations for the band. When their aggressive tour schedule and difficulties in the studio stretched the gap between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock to a worrisome three-years, it was natural to wonder if they had anything left to say or if, like so many others, they had burned out after one good album.

Well those concerns were clearly unfounded. Not only does Celebration Rock easily fulfill (and exceed) the promise of Post-Nothing, it shows a depth and (almost) maturity that their previous effort lacked. Indeed, the album clearly reflects the added perspective that Bryan and David gained from their experiences on the road and in the studio during the past three-years. While the tracks on Celebration Rock are clearly meant to be played loud and live with an audience yelling along with every chorus, the lyrics reveal a level of self awareness well beyond the generic shout-alongs of their lesser brethren. Indeed, like the best bands, they take themes from the well worn rock playbook (e.g. lost loves, massive nights, and the pleasures of various substances) and elevate them from trite observations to universally resonant themes. For example: "Younger Us"2 uses nostalgia and intimate collective memory as a rallying cry (“Gimme that night you were already in bed, said fuck it/got up to drink with me instead.”); Adrenaline Nightshift calls to mind every beer soaked late night bar you visited in your 20s while acknowledging that the raucous crowd is still “waiting for their generation’s bonfire to begin;”3 and Continuous Thunder closes the album on a melancholy note, asking a of a lover (past or current) “If I had all of the answers/and you had the body you wanted/would we love with a legendary fire?”

Make no mistake, this is revelatory music – but it’s not ideal for whooping it up with an anonymous mass of humanity. It’s the soundtrack to a house party with the same group you’ve been hanging out with for years; it’s the music you put on to lever yourself off the couch on a Friday night with memories of good times past and the promise of more to come; it’s the album you put on after a bad day, when the only proper response is “fuck it, lets go rage.” But really, Bryan and David said it best on the very first track of Celebration Rock (“The Nights of Wine and Roses”): “So we down our drinks in a funnel of friends/and we burn our blends right down to the end/we don’t cry for those nights to arrive/we yell like hell to the heavens.”

Celebration Rock indeed.

1. “The goods” being some combination of “celebration” and “rock.” Preferably liberal doses of each, cranked to 11, with little filler.
2.  Originally released as a single in 2010 but included on the album.
3. And tacitly accepting that such anticipation may be futile.