Brian King wants the whole fucking thing. Watch him onstage with the swagger and the cuffed-up short sleeves and the just-right exertion poses and the work-in-progress earnest/cocky between-song banter and the fan blowing his almost-long hair so that every moment is an Instagram moment. And, of course, the songs: built for the back row, built to assure that the back row gets ever further away.
This is not a judgment. This is not even an invitation to ruminate on what it means to be a rock star in 2012, man. It may not be cool, or punk, or indie, or Canadian, to harbor such outsize ambition — and certainly the past 20 years of pop history have proven that feigning resistance to stardom is no barrier to stardom — but to accept the Japandroids’ singer-guitarist’s dry-ice dreams is to understand why he is so singularly worthy of them. And why the Vancouver duo’s second full-length, Celebration Rock, not only lives up to its title, but singlehandedly makes the argument for rock as a populist, demographic-blurring, enduring, goddamn heartwarming thing more than any like-minded album in years. Because to want something that bad is to inherently believe that the future holds promise and can bring more than what we have now. And what product of pop, or of pop culture, would be so foolish or ballsy as to propose that? Where’s your chilly, dystopic Messiah now?
Celebration Rock doesn’t build up to this epiphany, it opens with it: “Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do,” is King’s call to arms in “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” and that’s about as wavering or equivocal as the album gets, stacking anthems on anthems about anthems. Less hand-wringing, more fist-pumping.
Lyrically, the eight songs are a stew of glorious nonsense straight out of Springsteen’s dream journals: Yelling like hell to the heavens as we hitchhike down fire’s highway through a generation’s bonfire to the house that heaven built. But somehow fire’s highway doesn’t go through Sam’s Town; Japandroids never ask that you take any of this seriously, and anyway, the lines are basically marking time between drummer Dave Prowse’s call-and-response background vocals and OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH-OHs that mean more than a bunch of stupid actual words ever could. You don’t need to know what an “Adrenaline Nightshift” is to know that you want to be on it.
If youth is wasted on the young, then so is nostalgia, and only “Younger Us” seems to distinctly look backwards in search of better days/colder brews. (There’s also a cover of the Gun Club’s 1981 “For the Love of Ivy,” but the statement may not be any deeper than “Hey, look! The Gun Club!”) Celebration Rock may not be the most interesting album from a rising rock band this year — the Men’s Open Your Heart, the self-titled debut from Toronto’s Metz, and DIIV’s Oshin all make their cases for punk being a vibrant, varied force in 2012 — but it’s the most resonant, speaking the loudest and the clearest, even if it’s mostly just saying, “Fuck yeah!”
Last week, Japandroids were playing New York, and I couldn’t go because I had a 2-week-old to attend to, and that seemed like just about the least rock ‘n’ roll reason to not stand in a dark room full of people jumping around and shouting along to shamelessly puffed-chest songs about telling people who slow you down to go to hell until I realized it was the most.