Album review: Japandroids, 'Celebration Rock'

Brian KingSway (music group)

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Japandroids’ second album is framed by the sound of cheap firecrackers, the kind you ignite in the back alley with your fellow juvenile delinquents at 3 a.m. before scattering into the night. It’s an appropriate image for this duo, which embraces the hugeness of stadium rock – pyro included – against all odds. With just guitar and drums, they rock like Thin Lizzy. “Don’t we have anything to live for?” they shout. “Well, of course, we do!”

One anthem follows another on the aptly titled “Celebration Rock” (Polyvinyl): The wordless backing vocals that lift “Fire’s Highway,” the furious drum fill (solo?) that crashes through “Evil’s Sway,” the guitar swarm that engulfs a cover of the Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy.” Brian King’s guitar and David Prowse’s drums roar like race cars constantly swapping the lead in the last lap.

The pace is even more breathless than the 2009 debut, “Post-Nothing,” which was supposed to be the going-nowhere Vancouver duo’s swan song. Instead it gave Prowse and King new life, and “Celebration Rock” is the sound of two guys shouting like convicts on emancipation day. Yet what makes this album so powerful and moving is the way that innocence erodes in its second half.

A hint of melancholy underlines many of the songs, a lurking sense that this glorious moment will pass, and then what? “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give,” they declare as the smoke briefly clears on “The House that Heaven Built,” their anxiety rubbing shoulders with strutting power chords. “Continuous Thunder” closes the album with the narrator walking the passage from adolescence into adulthood; ideals fade and relationships come with compromises. The fireworks pop again in the distance, fading in the rearview.

greg@gregkot.com

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