Album Review: Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

By Diana Powers, Contributor
[Polyvinyl; 2017]
Rating: 7.5/10

Key Tracks: “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”,”True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”, “No Known Drink or Drug”

Japandroids have established themselves as one of the most universally loved alternative rock bands of the decade. Consisting of Brian King on guitar and vocals and David Prowse on drums, Japandroids’ sound has always been impressively full. Since Celebration Rock’s critical acclaim in 2012, the duo’s next move has been nothing short of highly anticipated. Celebration Rock was a record filled with angst and hope; it evoked teenage feelings of invincibility and vulnerability with a rough around the edges delivery. Celebration Rock set the bar high for whatever followed. This is why Japandroids spent five years perfecting Near to the Wild Heart of Life, and the album that expands the band’s sound while unfortunately abandoning its quirks.

Near to the Wild Heart of Life is more polished and easily digestible than past releases. Though evolving to a more professional sound benefits some, Japandroids is not that band. The sleeker production is too stark a contrast from the raw sound of previous tracks such as Post Nothing’s “I Quit Girls” or Celebration Rock’s “Adrenaline Nightshift.”  Near to the Wild Heart of Life is much more methodical than the organic sound Japandroids have become known for. “North East South West” specifically suffers from this overly sleek sound. The track has all components of a Japandroids song; it includes booming instrumentals, a catchy chorus and lyrics about love and getting drunk. However, the put-together sound somehow makes Japandroids sound like any other average rock band.

Despite the sleeker production, most tracks preserve the signature grand Japandroids chorus. Japandroids songs are meant to be yelled in a drunken haze among a crowd of people, and Near to the Wild Heart of Life does not disappoint in this respect. “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” has an infectiously catchy chorus with King yelling, “And it got me all fired up to go far away”; it’s a song that begs you to belt along.

“No Known Drink or Drug” distinguishes itself as the album’s high point. The track acts as an expansion of the band’s already explosive sound. Over blaring guitar and drums king sings “No known drink, or no known drug, can ever hold a candle to your love.” This track embodies everything great about Japandroids. Had more songs sounded like this, Near to the Wild Heart of Life could have been a much more satisfactory album.

Near to the Wild Heart of Life is by no means a bad album, it could have even been great. However, when put in the context of Japandroids’ discography, it seems like a downgrade. Had it been released before Celebration Rock, there would have been a different reaction. Celebration Rock was a true triumph, and it seems near impossible for any follow-up to even come close to reaching its beautifully messy musical delivery. Near to the Wild Heart of Fire is not a failure, rather it cannot live up to Japandroids’ past.

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