Oh to be a Japandroids fan. After releasing their second album Celebration Rock the band toured relentlessly – we’re talking 500 shows between 2009 and 2013 across 44 countries. Naturally with Celebration Rock being a brilliant album, this earned the band a rapid expansion of their fan base; they went from first supports to headliners about as quickly as any band could hope for. Yet, when it seemed Japandroids were destined to break onto every magazine cover and launch a headline tour the likes of which punk bands across the world would right to envy, they announced their farewell to their fans through a message conveyed through their Facebook.
There were no public appearances in the next three years, but as the band themselves rested, Celebration Rock continued to circulate. Now in 2017 there’s a new Japandroids album, titled Near to the Wild Heart of Life (NTTWHOL – because that’s one hell of a title) and Japandroids now have the grand task of matching, and trying to exceed Celebration Rock, what many view as their career highlight.
With a revitalised fan base emerging from their slumber alongside Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life delivers an album that many fans probably believed they wanted to hear, a more refined, more produced Japandroids sound.
The problem is that with every well rounded, catchy and clear track on NTTWHOL, the essence of the Japandroids sound becomes a little more lost. Celebration Rock was by no means a messy album, but it featured reverberations that were left to sound natural, instead of cleaned up in a post edit, vocal tracks where singer Brian King sounded like he might burst. It felt real, and that’s what made it special.
I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner) doesn’t come near the emotional slow jam of the previous album, Continuous Thunder. The self-titled single from the album doesn’t come near the emotion of Younger Us or a number of other tracks from the previous album, and so on.
The only times when NTTWHOL stands out is when it moves in new directions. Arc of Bar features an interesting electronic riff running straight through the centre of the track. It’s not a particularly amazing track alone, but this could have been the basis for an album that stood out from previous Japandroids tracks. Also no one needs it to be seven and a half minutes long, us average joe’s *ahem* aint got time fo dat.
If the duo aren’t able to reach the heights of Celebration Rock by emulating the same sounds that created that album all those years ago, I’d suggest they keep moving with their sound. NTTWHOL shows hints of something new down the road for Japandroids, and only a fool would write them off as potential music pioneers once again in the future.