On Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids continue to clean up their sound with abysmal results. Minus maybe one track, this album is overproduced with cliché lyricism, hamfisted rhyme schemes, and drab vocal delivery. Each song is over-bloated, stretching two minutes of 80s bubble gum for a torturous five minutes with overly self-indulgent guitar parts and optimistic drums and synths. This is a band that came out of the DIY scene. They use to aim for a rough-around-the-edges feel, but today they stand in a completely different place. I don’t know what they’re doing and I don’t know why people enjoy it.
The album fades in with a pummeling drum roll accompanied by synthesizer daggers. This energy leads into an underwhelming tune, unfortunately. You get a really bright guitar line, then the verse starts over some spaced out power chords that went out of style about 25 years ago. Touting cringe-worthy “oohs” and “woahs,” the chorus reads as something off of Disney channel. “North East South West” comes next at the same basic tempo, this time incorporating some briskly strummed acoustic guitar alongside the same basic elements from the previous track. “I’m Sorry for Not Finding You Sooner” sticks out a little bit, but the shimmering instrumental and obnoxious vocal effect aren’t enough to hide another exhausting pop melody.
“Arc of Bar” is something of a success. Chugging drums come in with this forward-thinking synth line and shimmering guitars. The tune really blows everything out at the end with layers and layers of victorious backing vocals. The melodies are still a bit slick, but this song probably could’ve slipped by with no major complaints on another rock album.
If nothing else, the lyrics on the project are focused. At the start, we get talk about growing up and leaving your hometown, with the sense that everybody and everything you know is rooting you on. It matches the triumphant tone of the tune. Traveling continues to be a theme, but next the droids relate it to a lover of some sort: “North, east, south, west, coast to coast/Baby, the trouble that I get into/North, east, south, west, coast to coast/It ain’t shit compared to loving you.” The lover continues to enamor lead singer Brian King for the next two tunes, until he simple spouts “I’m sorry for not finding you sooner” for essentially an entire tune.
The second half of the album kicks off with a song about drinking. Like the first half of the record’s use of traveling, the idea of drinking slowly becomes less prominent in King’s eyes as he slowly falls in love: “And no known drink/No known drug/Could ever hold a candle to your love.” Then, the last song ties everything together by talking about how certain things in life end up not turning out, and love and home are all we really have: “Christ will call you out/School will deepen debt/Work will sap the soul/Hometown haunts what’s left.” It’s a story for their 20s. The group addresses grown-up concepts like seeing the world, traveling, and drinking, but gradually they realize that these ideas aren’t what they expected, and love is the most important thing in their lives.
Unfortunately, these lyrics are packed with some seriously eye-role worthy one-liners. “But I’ll carry it, by chariot” basically describes the rhyme scheme of the whole work, whereas “I was rolling like a pair of dice” showcases their (what’s the opposite of poignant?) poetic language. Although they are going through a rather dark emotional journey, the Japandroids just aren’t convincing me with these lame lyrical moments.
There’s certainly not a complete lack of artistry on the project, but overall it slides far too close to sterile modern rock for my tastes. I’m seeing a lot of luke-warm to favorable reviews from other reviewers and I really don’t understand why.