Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
“Cursed to carry on a bus and all alone, weak and weary on the run and on the road…”
There have been moments in the last six months where I’ve looked at the music I listen to and realise I’ve been hitting the same ruts and grooves for far, far too long. A new Belle & Sebastian release here, a solid 6.5/10 offering from Noel Gallagher there, I’m still kicking my heels in the two man tent at the back of my mind that is stuck at Reading 2006, wishing that I enjoyed Catfish & The Bottlemen as much as I enjoyed the first two Maxïmo Park albums.
And that’s all I can seem to bring myself to bother with. Whatever you want to refer to the generation born 1988–1992 as, millenials, the iPhone generation, the have-you-seen-this-Netflix-special?-generation, I see it as the people who were too young to ‘get’ The Libertines the first time round, too old to think Two Door Cinema Club are any good and by the time we’d all realised that Arctic Monkeys were actually really great they’d already hit the arena stage and as such there’s an element of disassociation with them. My most fondly remembered bands are the ones I saw in tiny venues, your little secret with a couple of mates from school that gave you a sense of completely misguided superiority. I’m talking Little Man Tate, the Pigeon Detectives…Christ, even The Kooks and The Holloways were exciting for about two weeks. These bands were never really that good. They were fun. We all knew deep down that they all lacked something that made Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and the aforementioned Arctics so popular. Reliably good/appealing music being the most likely factor.
Which is why when I stumbled across Japandroids’ second album, ‘Celebration Rock’ in Spring 2013 it felt like something had changed. Hearing ‘The House That Heaven Built’ for the first time was something so special to me that it felt like a wasted moment that it occurred in the self-service queue of a Leytonstone Sainsbury’s. No longer would I have to half-pretend that Death Grips were my favourite band (experimental hip hop has never really suited me). After wearing CR to the bone — particularly Continuous Thunder, the best song on that album — I didn’t really consider the fact that they’d take time off after spending nearly two straight years touring the hell out of it.
So I kind of forgot about that hope they instilled in me…Others came and went…A brief flirtation with Louis Berry…Remembering that Arcade Fire are very capable…Another Belle & Sebastian record…But then…the third album came…
It took me about half an hour to get past the title track of Near To The Wild Heart Of Life because I just kept skipping back to the start of it (the 21st Century ‘rewinding’). It hits similar themes felt on the two previous records and will garner the same cliched adjectives of “anthemic” and “defiant” but there’s a reason for those words. They ring as true as David Prowse’s impassioned vocals that are almost a gospel call-and-response in their delivery. I’d have been happy with those cliches, purely because they do them so well but it is quickly clear to see (hear?) that this is a band who had exhausted themselves over the last five/six years and committed that exhaustion to song. This is is no more clear than an on Midnight to Morning, an absolute highlight of the album and — to me — is the absolute crux of what NTTWHOL is. The standard Japandroids singalong chorus is there but there is a recurring them throughout the album…A forlorn, wearied two fingers up at how life on the road for all the unforgettable experiences it provides is actually quite destructive to your soul and to your personal life. It’s almost resigned in its tone save for the chorus that offers hope that maybe he’ll get home. Make no mistake, if I was told that I could only hear one more song in my life, it would be this. It is absolutely perfect.
This is not to say that the album has reinvented the wheel, it is a Springsteen/Petty sound that we’ve heard others try before but not pull it off anywhere near as well as Japandroids have done previously and continue to do so.
The album rattles along and comes in at just shy of 37 minutes but feels shorter and leaves you utterly breathless until we take one big gasp of air between No Known Drink or Drug and In A Body Like A Grave before we all gather together round the campfire one more time and hear lyrics that would sound wretchedly cliched if they came from anyone else.
“Age is a traitor”
“A drink for the body is a dream for the soul”
“Love so hard that time stands still”
“An ultimatum to the universe: fuck or fight”
This band deserve the crowds of your Two Door Cinema Clubs but I’ll settle for a sweaty romp in the O2 Institute 2 in Digbeth thank you very much.