Japandroids’ Celebration Rock begins and ends with fireworks — not the county-fair variety, but the cheap, barely legal kind you set off in the woods with friends and then run away, giggling uncontrollably. The sound sets the tone for a sizzling, incandescent burst of a record, one that conjoins punk-rock fist-aloft solidarity and weepy heartland-rock sentimentality in one 35-minute-long bro-hug. Expect a lot of sloppy back-patting, acres of generous sentiment and a surplus of the sorts of lines perfectly calibrated to shout joyously in the face of your closest friends. “We’re lashing out at evil’s sway tonight,” for example. Or “Don’t we have anything to live for?/ Well, of course we do, but until they come true/ We’re drinking.” It’s a record that demands to be heard, and loved, in groups.
Which doesn’t make it mindless. As is usually the case with especially fierce good cheer, Celebration Rock is borne of desperation: The two-man Japandroids were minutes away from breaking apart, wilting under a lack of momentum, when they recorded its eight gasping, suitcase-compact anthems. Lead singer Brian King nearly died (perforated ulcer, an ailment about as far from “carefree rock ‘n’ roll” as you can get). A scan of the lyrics, excised from endorphins, unearths some fairly dark thoughts: “It’s a lifeless life/ With no fixed address to give/ But you’re not mine to die for anywhere, so I must live,” King screams on “The House That Heaven Built.” With just a guitar and a drum kit, meanwhile, the lifelong friends generate enough heat and momentum for an entire E Street band. Songs surge forward recklessly, explode, and then plow forward again. The relentless hurtling mirrors the philosophy expressed in the lyrics: Embrace life with the energy of an over-eager Labrador Retriever, no matter what it throws your way.