I really like the Japandroids, and so I hope they have a long, prolific career, with a lot more highs than lows. Unfortunately, this uninspired release, Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti- Records), will definitely be regarded as one of those lows. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear a promising new band veer so quickly from exciting, stripped-down mayhem to this boring shlock.
“True Love and a Free Life of Free Will” and “Arc of Bar” are exactly the kind of songs an indie rock band writes when they’re running out of ideas—kitschy military drum figures, the plodding chord changes, the verses almost devoid of melody—and of course they’re each too long by a minute. I had high hopes when “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” started; at least it’s sonically very different. But it ends up being a one-note mixing board experiment, and an actual song never materializes.
Japandroids have always flirted with a very earnest, Springsteen-esque delivery, and they have a tenderness that usually manages to be endearing while just occasionally stepping over the line into cloying. On Wild Heart, though, that line is obliterated. Songs like “North East South West” and “In a Body Like a Grave” show just how easy it is for the spirit of Springsteen to turn into the treacly, pop-savvy scourge of John Cougar Mellencamp. Hell, if you strip “Midnight to Morning” of its fuzz you’d find out that underneath it’s just a bad Trixter song.
Maybe we’ll look back on this as a galvanizing moment for a great band, the era when they weren’t true to themselves and they told their fans “never again.” I would find that story easier to believe if this were some wild experiment gone wrong. But more likely this record is revealing their truest colors and before they were getting by on pure chaos and adrenaline. Maybe what we’ve discovered is just how close their better songs are to the edge of badness. If that’s the case, I look forward to ignoring them from now on. I just really don’t want to believe that this was the best they could do.