After years in hiding, you could forgive Japandroids for thrashing their way back into view. ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’ – the long-awaited follow-up to their boundary-breaking ‘Celebration Rock’ – opens in fitting fashion, its title track a fist-pumping, er, celebration of the ‘fired up’, unifying fun-factor that’s made Japandroids the poster-boys for life-affirming modern rock ‘n’ roll. On the whole though, their first release in four years finds the desert drag-racing duo letting off the gas a little.
‘North East South West’ is the best marker of that new, considered route. Where before their guitars were shredded up night after night, this time around they’re given space to swell. The soaring, stunning conclusion of ‘Midnight To Morning’ finds the pair trading off each other like never before, while ‘No Known Drink Or Drug’ has them employing a swooping new sense of melody amongst the fuzz.
There are moments where this new mindset backfires. The tongue-twisting titles of ‘True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will’ and ‘I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)’ aren’t the only thing that lacks focus, their slow-building one-two quickly sagging into a plod towards the finish line. By contrast, though, the seven-minute-plus ‘Arc Of Bar’ is perfectly paced, the extra breathing room instead allowing Japandroids to experiment with structure and new instrumentation, an almost Muse-esque buzzsaw synth cutting through their high-gain guitar sludge.
While Japandroids have always walked a tightrope between classic rock and straight-up punk, ‘Near To The Wild Heart Of Life’ finds their footing wobbling for the first time. Given time to stretch those aching muscles, though, there’s little doubting their ability to deliver on this newfound ambition.
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