At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Japandroids’ Celebration Rock for a carbon copy of 2009’s Post-Nothing: Aside from the nearly identical packaging, the duo’s latest also reunites them with the same producer, makes use of the same handful of instruments, and sticks to the same reverb-heavy aesthetic. Both albums even offer the same number of songs. Considering how great an album Post-Nothing was and how its success kept Japandroids from calling it quits, it’s understandable that the band might look to repeat it. But for all the formal similarities between the two albums, the scope of its emotions and the heft of its hooks make Celebration Rock feel like the bigger album and, in this case, that also means it’s better.
Japandroids structure their hooks in such a way that whatever they’re singing about sounds like the most urgent, life-or-death thing anyone has ever had to sing about, and they do it exceptionally well. While that led to a disconnect between tone and the fairly thin content on Post-Nothing, that isn’t the case here, especially on standouts like “The House That Heaven Built,” “Adrenaline Nightshift,” and “Younger Us.” An underlying need to stake definitive claims on relationships, emotions, and ideas before the opportunity to do so slips away provides the tension on most of the songs, which is why it feels like something tangible is always at risk. Even on “The House that Heaven Built,” which is fundamentally about encouragement, the refrain opens with the promise, “When they love you/And they will/Tell ‘em all/They’ll love in my shadow.”
Throughout the album, vocalist/guitarist Brian King repeatedly sings about stamping his name on shared experiences. On “Adrenaline Nightshift,” he’s skulking around the back of a bar, “waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin,” then exclaiming, “There’s no high like this,” when there’s finally something to latch onto. The scale is smaller on “The Nights of Wine and Roses” and “Younger Us,” both of which look fondly on the simple act of late-night drinking with a friend and make those late nights sound like a matter of survival. “Younger Us” feels especially relevant, asking what we’re left with if not our memories of even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential social connections.
To that end, Celebration Rock finds a band that had previously claimed they “just wanna worry about those sunshine girls” with a few bigger ideas on their minds. And for however much of a summer party album Celebration Rock might sound like, the earnestness and artfulness with which King and David Prowse express those big ideas shows the extent to which Japandroids have matured since their breakthrough. The shout-along slogans of Post-Nothing made for a good time, but Celebration Rock is a tipsy toast to the very best moments in life.