Japandroids’ ‘Celebration Rock’ turns 10
2012 was a hell of a year for loud rock records, like Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory and The Menzingers' On the Impossible Past, and one of the most monumental of all was Japandroids' Celebration Rock, which was released in the US ten years ago today (6/5). At the tail-end of 2019, we named it one of the best albums of the 2010s, writing:
There might not be a more accurately titled album on this list than Celebration Rock. It's exactly what this album does; it celebrates the pure thrill that you can only get from rock and roll. Every song (except the initially underrated album closer "Continuous Thunder") is turned up to 11 and played like the two members of Japandroids are challenging each other to play just a little bit faster. They've said they included all the "whoa"s because they were trying to think of how fans would sing along at shows. They stuffed the album with fist-raising heartland punk anthems that sounded like The Replacements with a literal fire lit under their asses, and they included such classic rock-isms as "Hearts from hell collide on fire's highway tonight" and "hitchhiked to hell and back, riding the wind / waiting for a generation's bonfire to begin." These eight songs sound like all the most fun parts of rock, stripped of all the pretension. It felt like a breath of fresh air in 2012, when stuff like art rock and psych-pop was still dominating indie rock, and -- along with Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory -- it helped open the doors for modern indie rock to embrace music that actually rocked. It holds up after all these years not just because it rocks so hard, though, but because underneath all the ruckus, Japandroids conveyed enough raw emotion to shake the hearts of anyone who listened to the core. "It's a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give / but you're not mine to die for anymore, so I must live," Brian King shouts as the drums drop out of penultimate song "The House That Heaven Built," and it's among the most life-affirming sendoffs put to tape this decade.
For even more retrospective writing on this album, I highly recommend the piece that Ian Cohen just wrote for Stereogum, particularly this part about why the album's cultural cachet has actually dwindled a bit over time, despite the album having so many diehard fans:
Here’s what I argue has diminished the rep of Japandroids most of all in the past decade: They might still pop up in the occasional press release RIYL, but I feel like very few of their fans are other musicians. This makes a lot of sense because Japandroids themselves don’t really consider themselves to be artists. “It’s not like I’m this super creative person who needs to express myself musically,” King told Pitchfork. “It’s more like we just need to record in order to play more shows.” Even though Japandroids released a legendary rock album, it does not present King and Prowse as people who were born for this shit, a la their heroes in Guns N’ Roses or AC/DC (let alone U2). It does not strike me as a work of magic or genius, even the kind exhibited by Paul Westerberg or Robert Pollard, guys who have likely forgotten more songs than Japandroids will ever write. They don’t even provide the lifeblood of punk rock, the vicarious thrill of seeing a couple of normal guys on stage and thinking, “I could do that.” Even in 2012, they were an outlier amongst wildly prolific garage rockers (Ty Segall, Cloud Nothings), DIY rawk lifers (Screaming Females, the Men), crusty post-rock titans (GY!BE, Swans), and vibey visionaries (DIIV, Tame Impala). Japandroids embodied maybe the dirtiest word in indie rock — tryhard.
Rather than trying to deny this obvious quality, it inspired one of the most insightful things I’ve ever seen an artist say about their own music: “There’s a difference between people who are born with that special thing and people who love the people who are born with that special thing so much that they want to try their best to get as close as they can to it.”
Thinking about the album now, I kind of wonder if Celebration Rock was meant to be a fire that burned brightly and intensely and then faded away. I wonder if you "had to be there." But speaking as one of this album's diehard fans, I also do wonder if it could be discovered by a new generation of music fans and be given a second life. It may have been a product of its time -- a time that feels ancient when you compare it to the musical landscape and social/political climate of today -- but the feelings within this album are timeless.
Stream the album in full below...