Japandroids' Celebration Rock is our Polaris shortlisted album stream of the week. The record was number one on juror Mike Devlin's ballot. The Victoria Times Colonist music writer argues the "emotional heft" of the album makes it a winner.
Celebration Rock, the sophomore full-length from Vancouver duo Japandroids, did with just two instruments what fellow nominees Drake (he of the over 70 collaborators) and Grimes (she of the doughnut hype, sweet on the outside but soft in the middle) strived for but failed to reach: emotional heft.
Celebration Rock opens with a burst of fireworks that is meant to suggest a celebration. It’s never clear exactly what is being feted – the start of a new life? The end of an era? – but the beautiful uncertainty gives Celebration Rock repeat-listen legs right out of the gate.
No record this year, let alone one that satisfied the Polaris Music Prize criteria of succeeding “solely on artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history or label affiliation,” kicked as much ass or showed as much heart as Celebration Rock. It rocked. It rolled. It swung the hammer of the gods.
Singer-guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse captured the romanticism of youth on Celebration Rock. Every time it spins, time stops; it’s like Japandroids channeled the spirit of classic rock and ran it through an indie rock flux capacitor, arriving in 2012 with a throwback that will still be paying dividends in 2022.
The record mines a well of inspiration much deeper – or not, should you consider "The Nights of Wine and Roses" to be a riff on a boozy JP Miller TV drama from 1958 – than one might assume. From direct links to Tom Petty’s "American Girl" to countless Bruce Springsteen-isms, Celebration Rock is retro-rooted from opening salvo to final exorcism, stopping only to drink from the same alcohol-fueled well as Paul Westerberg and the Replacements.
King screams and strums through a patchwork quilt of flange, echo, reverb and feedback. Some would put that down to a studio trick employed in hopes of concealing the duo’s limited musical range, if not their complete lack of original thought. I say Japandroids know their limits and stay within them, using to the fullest the musical gifts (verse-chorus-verse mastery, fifth-gear riffage) already in their possession.
Don’t blame King or Prowse for looking to other sources for inspiration, either; all 10 of the albums on the Polaris short list in 2012, from Cold Specks to Cadence Weapon, have channeled a certain degree of outside influence.
Japandroids simply chose source material fit for the open road, rather than a club or bedroom. That’s a cause for celebration, indeed. Because baby, they were born to run.
Stream: Japandroids’ Celebration Rock
Polaris juror Alan Ranta on why Cadence Weapon could take the prize
More Polaris coverage at CBCMusic.ca/Polaris2012
on Jul 30, 2012