Celebration Rock

Fireworks, drums that sound like bomb blasts, lightning bolts of electric guitar, and a rhetorical question: “Long lit up tonight and still drinking/Don’t we have anything to live for?”

So begins one of the greatest rock records of the 21st century. It’s also one of the most aptly named. Celebration Rock. Rarely has an album title ever doubled so effectively as a perfect description of what’s inside. In 2012, with their second LP, Canadian rockers Japandroids served up music perfect for…well, for celebrating to.

What were we celebrating, you may ask? Frankly, if you had Celebration Rock blasting out of a stereo back in 2012, it didn’t matter what you were celebrating, or whether you were celebrating at all. The songs made it feel like a celebration. They made any moment feel like a goddamn, out-of-hand, my-car-is-in-the-swimming-pool rager.

I’ll forever be thankful that I was the age I was when Celebration Rock landed on May 29, 2012. As a recently-minted 21-year-old, I was old enough to get into bars and legally consume alcohol. But I was also still a college student, still sharing an apartment with my college buddies, and still another year or so shy of when real-life responsibility would start to set in. In other words, I was old enough to celebrate the way the characters in Celebration Rock celebrate, and young enough to do it with all the reckless abandon of youth. Even thinking about some of the shit I did while playing these songs very loud on my apartment stereo makes my head hurt with the ghosts of shitty mixed drinks and dreadful hangovers.

More than maybe any album I’ve done a 10-year retrospective for, Celebration Rock feels like a particular moment in time. I still love this record and the feelings it evokes, but in many ways, the energy of this record was not a renewable resource. Brian King and David Prowse, the two guys that make up Japandroids, were 29 when Celebration Rock came out. Five years later, they were writing songs about love, marriage, and domesticity on the significantly tamer, more balladic Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Now approaching 40, they have yet to release their fourth album as a band, and maybe never will. If they do, it’s hard to imagine them going back to this particular well. There’s a type of raucous, adrenaline-fueled freedom you can only tap into when you’re young, and these guys have probably long since reached the point where that Springsteen lyric about how “Maybe we ain’t that young anymore” seems more relatable than a song about hitchhiking to hell and back and waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin.

Similarly, most of us who partied to Celebration Rock in the moment are probably a few kids or a few mortgages past the point where pounding beers in a bar until last call on a Wednesday night feels like reasonable decision. That’s the thing about Celebration Rock, though: it’s an album about a time in your life when responsibility still seems like it’s another few exits down fire’s highway. And while listening back to songs about that time of my life could easily make me feel old, it mostly just makes me smile fondly about a chapter that was golden, and beautiful, and wildly fun, but that ended because it had to. Said another way, it’s an album that gets me thinking “Man, remember when we were young?” more than it gets me thinking “Maybe we ain’t that young anymore.”

I have two unforgettable memories of this record, both of which occurred at moments where it felt like eras of my life were ending. The first was “Continuous Thunder,” playing as I drove home from my last night at a summer job and a group of co-workers that had meant the world to me. The second was “The House That Heaven Built,” which I made sure to blast on the stereo late at night during the last party my college roommates and I ever threw at our apartment. So much of this record is an epic riot, a constant blitzkrieg of sound. But both those songs felt so poignant in those moments, when I was bidding farewell to some of the last signifiers of my youth: summer jobs; summer vacations; college parties; college roommates; shots of vodka with people I was about to say goodbye to, maybe forever. Celebration Rock would be a near-perfect rock album under any circumstances. But I’ll always love it for how it captures, for me, both the spirit of a celebratory party and the melancholy of recognizing that it’s time for the party to end.

Last year, a friend I lived with for three of the four years of college got married. On the way to his bachelor party, I pulled out Celebration Rock – probably for the first time in a year or two – and played it…loud. For 36 minutes, it was like I was 21 again. All the excitement of those wild years came flooding back; all the anticipation you used to feel before a night out, or before a weekend where you’d get to spend three nights in a row blowing off the built-up steam of term papers, or finals, or big class projects. That weekend proved to be every bit as wild as our wild years, like we were all collectively throwing it back to the versions of ourselves that existed when Celebration Rock was brand new. That’s not my life anymore, and neither are these songs, but it felt warm and comfortable to revisit both, if only just for a weekend.