Five years since the perfectly self-descriptive Celebration Rock, Japandroids are back with the victorious Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. The title track opener kicks off with the fiery lyric of “The futures under fire, the past is gaining ground” (which sounds like a Trump reference) sets the scene for a story of desperately wanting to escape a small town to live out your wildest dreams. Without surprise, it already feels like a celebration, simultaneously an escape and a homecoming, combining brashness in the face of gloom and excitement in the face of glory.
Musically, the band have taken leaps forward on this album. The album cover is still a familiar black and white photo of the duo, and for the third time there’s eight tracks, which are all gloriously extroverted, arena-sized anthems, but the sound of their winning formula has expanded enormously. There’s the surprisingly shoegazey ‘I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)’, the synthy seven and half minute ‘Arc of Bar’, and even more prominent acoustic guitar too. It’s a stylistic risk that somehow seems very natural, they sound fresh but don’t stick out from the other tracks.
The entire record sounds built for live performance, you can picture the masses of drunk, impassioned fans arm in arm shouting out every lyric. Whether its ‘Midnight To Morning’ or ‘In A Body Like A Grave’, this kind of adrenaline fuelled rock just doesn’t exist nowadays, at least not so consistently or with this versatilely through topics. One highlight, ‘No Known Drink or Drug’, with its “shananana” backing vocals, is one of their catchiest moments. As a whole, the album acts like a soundtrack to their own triumphant return, its fierce, bold and brilliant.