It is has been an entire year since I started writing for Bucketlist Music Reviews, and not once have I given an album a perfect score. Maybe it’s because I didn’t come across a truly great record, or maybe it’s because I’m a dick. Either way, I can’t think of an album more deserving, especially since Near To The Wild Heart Of Life by Japandroids could have easily failed. For one, it’s the follow up to the wildly successful Celebration Rock; secondly, it is also a change in direction. You know, the kind of artistic growth that will alienate a few angry nerds. They needn’t worry though. Japandroids find themselves maturing, which doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down. Contrary to what Ally Sheedy said in The Breakfast Club, “Your heart doesn’t have to die with age.”
According to lead singer and guitarist Brian King, “The album is a new beginning,” which is comforting considering that there were doubts as to whether we would ever see these rock purists again. This new beginning is made obvious by the approach of King and drummer David Prowse. Gone are the days of blistering covers of obscurities like The Gun Club‘s “For The Love of Ivy,” and raw teen anthems like “The House That Heaven Built.” Their new work leans more towards the ambiguous, blue-collar romanticism of Bruce Springsteen’s essential output. King’s protagonists now struggle with achieving success at the expense of friends, family, lovers, and even their hometown. Angst only becomes more complex with age. Regret is inevitable.
Like any Springsteen song, the whole thing has the potential to sound horribly cheesy, yet somehow doesn’t. This is blood and guts music. You don’t think it; you feel it. You blast it from your car, as you drive off into the great unknown. We all inherently want to make our dreams come true, even if it may appear opportunistic. Japandroids have frequently been compared to The Replacements, but only now have they truly lived up to the comparison. Like peak-era Replacements, this album isn’t about making guitar noise anymore. It’s about marrying heartfelt emotions with cinematic imagery. It’s about giving the lyrics room to breathe, and dammit if it isn’t refreshing!
This doesn’t mean their signature raw energy is gone. What previously made them so riveting as a band was how they managed to play like punks, but write like classic rockers. The difference here is that the tables have turned. They may have mellowed musically, but their message is more complex, and as a result more powerful. Telling them all to go to hell just won’t cut it anymore. You have to make your own opportunities before it’s too late.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is, above all else, a kickass rock and roll record. The short, straight-to-the-point kind that you just don’t hear anymore. The title track is one of their greatest anthems, but it’s “Arc of Bar” that might be the real highlight. This seven-minute groove, bolstered by bleeps and bloops, is stuffed with beer drenched poetics and yeahs that would do Kurt Cobain proud. Really though, there is not a shitty song to be found. No album is perfect, but a case could be made that this is as good as it gets.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson