There’s a moment about two minutes into “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” the opening song on Japandroids’ debut album Post-Nothing, where anyone with an appreciation for the craft of musicianship might question whether the Vancouver-based duo have chosen the right career for themselves. Brian King’s yelping vocals come in just out of sync with the clunky rhythm set out by his scrappily strummed guitar, itself overdriven to the point where one chord bleeds, rather than crashes, into another. Drummer David Prowse, meanwhile, attacks his kit like he’s just taught himself a few basic tricks that he’s too eager to show off, unleashing fill after inappropriate fill and off-beat cymbal crashes, speeding up and slowing down at random and generally doing a poor job of actually keeping time. Self-financed and rush-recorded with no room in the budget for luxuries like overdubs, even the most hard-hearted critic could forgive a mistake or two; the playing improves further into the album, after all, and it includes a number of tracks – most noticably the anthemic “Wet Hair” – that make a good case for punk’s original “idea over execution” ethos. But for some, such a muddy, muddled introduction would be enough to instantly put them off Japandroids for life. Thankfully, on follow-up Celebration Rock, Prowse and King display the benefits of a couple of years’ experience, both in the studio and on the road. We’re not talking bolstered production values (they were never “lo-fi”) or an expansion of their sound (it’s still just the two of them), just an overall tightening up of the interplay between their guitar, drums and dual vocals, a simple change – all too often taken for granted- that makes a world of difference. Sat somewhere in the shadow of the holy trinity formed by Springsteen, the Replacements and the Hold Steady, Prowse and King offer a very Canadian (read: “polite”) variation on those artists’ blue-collar romanticism. Opening with a verse that manages – albeit ineloquently – to spike the joyous spirit suggested by the album’s title with a dash of casual nihilism (“Lit up tonight, and still drinking/ Don’t we have anything to live for?/ Well of course we do but ’til it comes true/ We’re drinking”), there’s nothing here that could really offend anyone: unlike the aforementioned artists, there’s no violence here, no drugs, no real debauchery, no threat. What Japandroids do – very well, I might add – is capture a feeling quickly with a couple of emotionally-charged (or overly dramatic) phrases, and then repeat ad infinitum, peppered with big, boozy “whoa-whoa” choruses, until exhausted. It’s simple stuff, but it’s irresistably energetic and catchy as hell; the kind of racket a group like Blink 182 might have made had they been obsessed with Kerouac and Husker Du rather than toilet humour and their own genitals. With perfect punk pop songs like “The House That Heaven Built” (below) and “Fire’s Highway” in no short supply, Celebration Rock bridges two timeless rock ‘n’ roll clichés – boys rushing to be men, and men trying to cling onto the glory days of their youth – brilliantly. There are still a few mis-steps, but this is the kind of ecstatic noise you’ll happily take warts and all; underneath all the fuzz and thump is a snapshot of two lives moving so fast that a little blurring around the edges is inevitable.
Celebration Rock is out now on Polyvinyl Records