Japandroids leaves previous sound for disappointing new direction

Japandroids Near to the Wild Heart of Life | Anti Records Grade: C+
Japandroids Near to the Wild Heart of Life | Anti Records
Grade: C+

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Guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse from Vancouver, British Columbia, blend their voices and the sounds of classic rock and indie punk to establish a band harboring a warmly familiar sound. The pair’s proximity to so many rock and roll greats and contemporaries — Green Day, Foo Fighters, maybe a little bit of The Black Keys — assures its success. The sound isn’t a copy of any of their inspirations, but it mirrors the best facets of old rock — crashing symbols, the fuzz of riffing guitars, danceable megaphone choruses — that will always be important in popular culture despite and even because of its classic qualities.

But for a group that has settled fairly consistently throughout its past three studio albums on fiery guitar melodies and gritty vocal reaches, in the final form of anthemic rock songs, this album feels like an unwarranted divergence from the conviction of its past sound.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life seems at first like an attempt at depth, which the group has, in previous albums, avoided in favor of snappy lines and brilliant lyrical witticisms sung with raging passion and backed by equally exuberant drums and guitar. But the shifting genre, both from previous albums and over the course of this one, isn’t as successful as the two would hope.

Lyrically, the songs are simple in none of the best ways. In earlier albums, the broad, and sometimes even presumptuous, lyrics were saved by their humor. On the last album, Celebration Rock, the “The Nights of Wine and Roses” lines, “Long lit up tonight and still drinking / Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do / But till they come true / We’re drinking,” are immature in their lack of context, but the song is saved by the tongue-in-cheek last phrase. “She was just / One of those girls / After her / I quit girls,” from “I Quit Girls” in Post-Nothing, shows the same carefree abandon for avoiding generalities, but hey, it’s funny.

The lyrics in Near To The Wild Heart Of Life hinge on clichés minus the humorous kick. Between the first song (the title track) of the album and its 5-minute closer, the group lumbers through a sweeping, generalized retelling of all of the best clichéd trials in human life: deciding to leave home to pursue a dream, grappling with one’s identity in conjunction with one’s hometown, mixing up one’s morals and one’s friends, loving deeply and tenderly, losing that love, etc.

It’s King and Prowse’s lives that are being sung about, but the way they wrote the album, it could be anybody’s. In “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner),” the not-so-snazzy repeated chorus of “From every day at dawn / Through to the dead of night / I’m sorry for not finding you sooner / I was looking for you all my life,” makes up the entire lyrical body of the entire song. The concept is fascinating, but it sadly remains conceptual. Listeners are stuck wanting more emotion, to understand what they sing and shout about so passionately. The strain between this emotional potency and the less-than-hoped-for delivery leaves it worse off than if it had met expectations.

But maybe that was never the direction they were going. And yet the varying musicality falls short, too.

The tonal and tempo variations cause the music to lose its constant urgency, something that was omnipresent in Japandroids’ past work, leaving listeners in a rather confused purgatory between rock and true divergence from it. Some of the songs, such as “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” and “North East South West,” feel too clean compared to the wildly joyful grunge and grit from the group’s earlier albums, settling in as platitude-filled and unconvincingly wild. Others, such as “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” and “Arc Of Bar,” feel too anticlimactic, fiddling around at the beginnings of a rock song and never building up to the smashing ruckus they need.

But however edited and inauthentic to the group’s original sound the title track is, its chorus is guaranteed to loop in your head for the entire rest of the day; it’s just too fun to be mad at.

Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].