Vancouver duo Japandroids emerged in 2006 playing a blend of noise rock, garage rock and punk. Debut Post-Nothing, released in 2009, and follow-up Celebration Rock from 2012 enjoyed their fair share of plaudits; the second album in particular.
Continuing their homage to the great rock ‘n’ roll albums of all-time, third collection Near To The Wild Heart Of Life persists with the eight track format, the band stating that eight songs “is the standard template for a great rock ‘n’ roll album”. They then reel off various classics such as Raw Power (The Stooges), Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen) and Horses (Patti Smith) but their biggest “standard template” influence is likely to be Television’s Marquee Moon.
The first two albums both paraded sleeves based on the New Yorker’s own cover and, despite persisting with the simple black and white format adorned with a single photo of Brian King (guitar, vocals) and David Prowse (drums, vocals), the new album jettisons the iconic white lettering and white square this time round. And all the music is collated to form two neat sides of vinyl, the final nod to the 1970s.
There was plenty of Japandroids’ own raw power captured on the earlier albums, particularly Celebration Rock, with arguably their greatest asset being the often maniacal drum patterns knocked out by Prowse alongside King’s fuzzy punk guitar. But Near To The Wild Heart Of Life has a more polished sheen. It’s natural evolution, and the band will inevitably find moaners yearning for the more channelled vicious vigour from before, but now they’re heading for bigger things: fist-pumping melodic rock anthems that could fill a stadium whilst retaining enough of that fervour to preserve their identity.
The adrenalin-flowing opening salvo of the title track and lead single followed by North East South West blend together fairly seamlessly. It’s also where Prowse’s drum fills sound impossible for one set of human limbs to be able to produce unaided; “I used to be good but now I’m bad,” declare the lyrics and you can’t help but think some of the hardcore fans might be thinking the same, but those put off by the raw side of before will probably be thinking the total opposite.
North East South West’s uplifting energy contains enough melodic qualities to compete with the likes of Green Day, whilst sounding like something influenced by The Clash and played out by Mick Jones’ spin-off band Big Audio Dynamite, the songs own split structure that sees the tempo chopped in half helps to echo both bands.
The slower pace continues into another belter in True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will – now almost two years old itself – before the shortest track of the album, I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner) fuzzes into its distorted existence, providing little else than an interlude.
Once the interval is over, and the vinyl has been flipped, you’re hit with the epic Arc Of Bar, which at over seven minutes long is the lengthiest number the band have included on an album. Designed and placed to be the centrepiece of the record, it’s little short of thrilling. A slower pace is offset by its sheer power and somehow, despite melding electronica reminiscent of Muse’s Map Of The Problematique with the type of anthemic chanting you’ll find plastered all over Embrace’s 1998 debut The Good Will Out, it works tremendously well.
Midnight To Morning does its best to follow such a monster and in its own right is a decent effort with a thunderous instrumental break, but Arc Of Bar’s shadow is still looming over it; No Known Drink Or Drug also suffers the same fate – again, it’s not a bad track, but perhaps the centrepiece is proving difficult to shake off. In A Body Like A Grave closes the album, its striking guitar riff leading to a well needed foot-tapping chorus to finally erase the memory of the album’s best track.
Despite arriving some four years after Celebration Rock, and taking several months to go through the mixing and mastering stages before release, much of the material on the new album will be known to fans, having been given plenty of test outings at gigs since 2016 after their three year hiatus. Comfortably impressive, it’s difficult to see how Near To The Wild Heart Of Life will leave the turntable once it gets spinning. Despite being less striking than its predecessor, it’s another great Japandroids album.