“Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Slightly more muted indie-rock celebration
The Japandroids’ breakout album, “Celebration Rock,” was a surprising thrill for the way it translated euphoria into guitar-driven indie rock.
Singer-guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse roared through shout-along anthems such as “The House That Heaven Built” and “The Nights of Wine and Roses” about enjoying life and rocking out.
But a lot has changed since 2012. And Japandroids’ “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” (Anti-) isn’t overflowing with frantic energy the way its predecessor was. It’s there in the fist-pumping “No Known Drink or Drug,” which effortlessly gathers speed to a memorable conclusion in about 3 minutes. And on “North East South West,” they offer both a tour bus travelogue and plenty of Canadian shout-outs.
But mostly, the Japandroids’ world feels much more complicated. And that leads to the sprawling, seven-minute “Arc of Bar,” a middling mix of metaphors and midtempo layers punctuated with lackadaisical “yeahs.” King is clearly building to something, as his voice rises in intensity, but he never really gets there.
On “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will,” the limitations of being a duo become clear. When King and Prowse are at their best, their intensity becomes contagious, creating their own momentum. But here, they both start to drag, as King sings about “cigarettes, sorcery and biblical sins hang over us heathens, harlots and antique heroines,” and they get caught in a musical cul-de-sac with no way out.
The Japandroids don’t need to celebrate (or rock) all the time, but they should sharpen their vision for other emotions.