There’s a lot of people to whom Japandroids are at times the greatest Rock band on the planet. Few artists can generate the visceral Springsteen-esque feelings of hope and joy with the intensity and consistency of Japandroids. Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock were two perfectly imperfect albums that oozed raw power, completely deserving of the unbridled enthusiasm and excitement that isn’t thrown as readily to guitar bands as it used to be. And then, Japandroids went away for a few rumour filled years.
With the worst of the rumours proven false and the best of them proven true, Near To The Wild Heart Of Life sees them return with their third album in eight years. The title-track and leading single that appeared back in November was pretty exciting, playing like “Summer of ‘69” on fire. But as life affirming as it was, seemingly improving with every listen, it felt a little too polished to quite carry the last-dance-on-earth urgency of “Younger Us” or “Young Hearts Spark Fire” - songs which were so powerful both because of and in spite of the haste and fuzz that made them so unique.
For better or worse, the preview was telling. There’s no shortage of anger, joy and delirium in King’s writing but the delivery has taken a turn. The power is now in the details, whether it’s the delicious harmony in “No Known Drink or Drug,” the swaggering synth line that carries seven plus minute “Arc of Bar,” the ghostly strain that permeates “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” or the shuddering ambience that smothers album closer “In A Body Like A Grave” - it’s the intricacies and layers that make this material special as much as chest beating of old. This isn’t a record that finds its strength in its volume.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is a very good album and time will likely prove it to be a truly great album. Though Japandroids have never felt like a band to be enjoyed on an academic level, there’s a maturity, musical sophistication and sense of detail that is largely absent from their previous output but it’s up to you to decide if that’s enough.
Rather than being dragged along for the ride, there’s an isolated appreciation of individual moments and elements, not just the wide-eyed appreciation of life, love, sex, youth and death. They have never sounded cleaner or more like ‘songwriters’ but all of the beauty of Japandroids is still here - you just have to dig to find it. The idealism and energy of 2009 exists here as an echo through memory and nostalgia. They told us we could keep tomorrow because they’re not gonna need it - but tomorrow came and they’re still here. But it sounds like they’re making the very best of it.