In Dylan Thomas’s 1952 poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” he writes:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
While Thomas would die the following year, his poem has endured from the way it captures the endurance of an eternal youth. It’s been referenced by emo bands, Oscar nominees, and Rodney Dangerfield. Japandroids’ Near to the Wild Heart of Life is the perfect adaptation of Thomas’s “Rage Against the Dying of the Light” poem.
The press surrounding the third Japandroids album has been calling this the Canadian duo’s most mature album yet, and it is. Therefore, it must be more fitting that Celebration Rock was their “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” and this must be something more akin to Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, right? Wrong. Celebration Rock was exactly that, a celebration of youth. While Wild Heart has elements of coming-of-age, it also holds onto youth through tunes that are sure to incite nothing but rocking. Songs such as the “North East South West” or are reminiscent of Japandroid songs on Celebration Rock and Post-Nothing, but the bad grows their sound to include acoustic guitars and electronic songs such as on “Arc of Bar” and “Midnight to Morning.”
Even though songs like “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” and “North East South West” are more than welcome, the most memorable songs are the ones where Brian King and David Prowse experiment or scale back ever so slightly. This is least effective on “Arc of Bar,” where most of the song is overwhelmed by electronic sounds throughout the track’s 7-minutes, but it works best on “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will,” which is a Springsteen-like arena rocker about being in love and figuring out where you want the relationship to take you. Still, some of the best songs sound like Japandroids songs just with a toe taken off the gas. “No Known Drink or Drug” and “In A Body Like A Grave” could have easily appeared on Celebration Rock, but they don’t sound like a step backward. “No Known Drink or Drug” helps keep the pacing from going stale on the album. “In a Body Like A Grave” is a good mixture of the new sounds and old, while summing up the album in a perfect conclusion.
The largest part of Japandroid’s appeal are the joyous slogans that everyone loves to shout along to. The chorus of the opening title track is perhaps the best example that the band are just as great as ever:
It got me all fired up
to go far away
and make some ears ring with the sound of my singing baby
so I left my home
and all I had
I used to be good, but now I’m bad.
Also, love and commitment are now major themes of Wild Heart. Where Celebration Rock sounded like the soundtrack to nights of liver pulverizing in search of one night stands and romance, Wild Heart has songs that glorify “plans to settle down” and reaffirm that
no known drink
and no one drug
could ever hold a candle to your love
It’s not love compared to drug use as much as it sees romance as necessary in lieu of drug abuse. Still, none of these are restrained ballads. Each song is still high energy, and even if you can’t mosh to it, you can’t fall asleep to it either.
Near to the Wild Heart of Life isn’t the same rip-roaring classic that Celebration Rock is. Similarly, it’s not an album that’s for everyone. The band ventures into territory that gives subpar performances like on “Arc of bar” or “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner),” but this is still a loud, raucous collection that defies growing up as much as it embraces it. Japandroids won’t go gently into any good nights any time soon.