Good work hardly ensures acclaim. Musicians in particular know the yawning apathy that typically greets every band at some point, something that doesn’t necessarily disappear after those tentative early gigs or releases. Good bands go unheralded all the time; the lucky ones earn a cult following, and only a small fraction build sustainable careers out of playing music. Plenty of them are only appreciated after they’re gone.
That nearly happened to Vancouver’s Japandroids, who had recorded a pair of EPs before releasing their acclaimed debut, Post-Nothing, in 2009. Post-Nothing itself nearly didn’t happen; the band had decided to self-release the album at the end of 2008, following its ostensible final shows. By that point Japandroids—guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse—had been a going concern for two years with little to show for it. Those self-release plans changed when King and Prowse met Greg Ipp from Unfamiliar Records, which in turn led to some attention online, and soon, what was planned as a few shows and a posthumous album turned into two years of touring and widespread acclaim.
But even that didn’t guarantee much of a future for Japandroids. As the press materials for the fantastic new (and aptly titled) Celebration Rock note, the band was unable to write much in between tours, so it settled for a few singles in 2010. When the time came to write Celebration Rock in late 2011, King and Prowse struggled. For a pair of guys who regularly admit their limitations as songwriters, it was incredibly difficult to expand beyond the “simple sloganeering” of Post-Nothing. Prowse and King eventually relocated to Nashville to write the album over the course of six weeks before returning to Vancouver to record with Jesse Gander at the Hive, the same producer and studio behind Post-Nothing.
Even though Japandroids’ future has always been uncertain, Celebration Rock never seems to doubt its raison d’être. Maybe it’s because the songs were so hard won after that long dry spell that they sound especially lively, but Celebration Rock starts strong and stays there over the course of its eight songs and 35 minutes. The fantastic first single, “The House That Heaven Built,” serves as an apt introduction to the album: propulsive, supremely catchy, and punctuated by sing-along “oh oh ohs” and a killer chorus, “When they love you (and they will) / tell ’em all they’ll love in my shadow / and if they try to slow you down (slow you down) / tell ’em all to go to hell.” “The House That Heaven Built” provides a climactic finish that settles into the more subdued closer, “Continuous Thunder,” which ruminates on the duo’s favorite subject, romantic entanglement: “If I had all of the answers / and you had the body you wanted / would we love with a legendary fire?”
Actually, the band’s favorite subject could well be the fleeting nature of the acclaim that has extended Japandroids’ life expectancy. The uncertainty that made the band’s future an open question gives the songs a “carpe diem” urgency, perhaps best captured by album opener “The Nights Of Wine And Roses”: “Long lit up tonight and still drinking / don’t we have anything to live for? / well of course we do / but ’til they come true, we’re drinking.” The theme carries over to the aptly titled “Adrenaline Nightshift,” which sounds like a Japandroids autobiography: “Hitchhiked to hell and back, riding the wind / waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin / when the plunder of the poets, thunder of a punk’s guitar / beat life to my body sulking drunk at the back of the bar.” As King sings in the chorus, “There’s no high like this.”
There isn’t, and Celebration Rock memorializes those moments even as it celebrates them. In “Younger Us”—which first appeared on one of the three singles Japandroids released in 2010—King repeatedly demands “Give me the younger us” as he runs through an inventory of memories general (“Remember saying things like we’ll sleep when we’re dead / and thinking this feeling was never going to end?”) and specific (“Remember that night you were already in bed / said ‘Fuck it” and got up to drink with me instead?”). That last couplet provides an easy metaphor for Japandroids, who only found acclaim after they’d “gone to bed” but decided, “Fuck it, let’s keep going.” The song wants it both ways: the thrill of the new (“Give me that naked new skin rush”) and the eternal (“Give me that ‘you and me to the grave’ trust”).
The question of King and Prowse making it to a third album, much less “to the grave,” remains open even now, but Celebration Rock finds that some of the best moments in life can come from uncertainty. You just have to be open to them, even if you’re already in bed.