Japandroids, ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’: Album Review
Near to the Wild Heart of Life isn’t as wild as it is huge – big choruses, pounding drums, grand stories, giant sounds. The members of Japandroids said they made their last album, 2012’s acclaimed Celebration Rock, with the idea of creating music to fill stadiums. Their third album sounds like they’re trying to be heard on Mars.
Frontman Brian King apparently took the phase “go big or go home” literally, writing about his move from hometown Vancouver to foreboding Toronto on the album’s title track. King acquitted the song’s name third-hand, from novelist Clarice Lispector who borrowed it from a James Joyce quote. He originally planned to pen “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” by incorporating elements from both authors’ works, but ditched that plan to discuss his own, emotional experience of changing cities.
It was the right move. The lead-off track hurtles forward, chucking literary details at its cinematic sweep in a bold attempt to pull a Bruce Springsteen. King’s last night in town, his insecurities about “the past gaining ground” and his surge for personal growth all play out on a widescreen canvas of tumbling drums and charging guitar. But it’s a dark victory because he’s not so sure he was born to run. King wails in the chorus, “I used to be good but now I’m bad” (digging into a Canadian truth about those who move to Toronto).
It’s not just Bruce Springsteen that King and drummer David Prowse are emulating on Wild Heart. They reference an album by the Band, paraphrase Bob Dylan – “Time is money and money swears” – and emulate the Rolling Stones. The duo have said that “Arc of Bar” is their “Sympathy for the Devil,” at least in the way it broke them out of their usual method for constructing a song. Instead of building a track around a rhythm (like “Sympathy”), the album’s centerpiece glues itself to a looped guitar line that allows King to deliver seven and a half minutes of verses, choruses and a bridge.
Listen to "Arc of Bar"
“Arc of Bar” is a worthwhile twist on Japandroids’ distortion-drenched chorales, especially in contrast to other songs that get lost in their own swirl. “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” consists of a chorus stuck on repeat. Elsewhere on the album, important moments are swallowed by big beats and “Whoa-oh-oh” shouts. And “Midnight to Morning” flogs King’s tour-weary themes (being on the road sucks, I miss you, etc.) a few times too many. If those lyrics weren’t already rock clichés, they would be by the end of this 36-minute album.
If Japandroids sometimes mistake the overblown for the anthemic, the Canadian musicians manage to create a record full of memorable melodies, hew to a consistent theme and match songs with meaty sounds. “No Known Drink or Drug” straddles a buzzsaw riff to travel from “red-ammo romance” to constant companionship. A drone that could be the noise of the world’s biggest cello underscores “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will.” “North South East West” sounds like Bright Eyes R.O.C.K.-ing out to John Mellencamp and Hüsker Dü on the same stage.
Most of the songs on Wild Heart will probably sound better from the stage. A few might be better appreciated from Mars.
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