It’s been nearly five years since Japandroids released their breakthrough Celebration Rock, a declaration of allegiance to the sacred tenets of rock and roll: sex, drugs, and sweat. Since then, the band spent several years touring the country, and several more resting in Canada as they retreated from their status as indie guitar-music saviors.
Much has stayed the same on Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the band’s third album. Like its predecessor, it also contains eight songs, many of which still run in the four-minute range, and most of which still deal with, in one form or another, negotiating compromised dreams and early-middle aged adult restlessness. There are scattered new musical approaches, though: more acoustic guitar, some synths here and there, a new reliance on slower tempos, and a seven-plus minute progrock epic called “Arc of Bar.”
Singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer-vocalist Dave Prowse still have a way of instilling magic with not much more than a few chords and some earnest romanticism: “A whirlwind, a woman and a famous feeling” is how they put it on “No Known Drink or Drug,” one of many songs on Wild Heart that sets forth an altogether new thesis for Japandroids: that dedication to a future of long-term love can be just as thrilling and worthy of sing-along celebration as bemoaning what once was.
On the album-closer “In a Body Like a Grave,” the band further embraces its newfound maturity, channeling Springsteen with an anthem of communal resilience that extols the hard work of persisting through the dark troubles life inevitably throws your way. At some point, the song seems to say, we’ll all have to recover some long-buried faith: “Gather the gang, and make that night,” King sings, “an ultimatum to the universe: fuck or fight.”