The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids
Brian King of the Japandroids cites Paul Westerberg as a song-writing influence but I’d say that influence is too weak of a word. Brian King is practically channeling the Replacement’s lead singer in the first single “The House That Heaven Built” from their newest album Celebration Rock. Post-Nothing was an album that’s so fun, triumphant and memorable that it’s hard to think they could ever top it. Turning on theJapandroids first album, Post-Nothing, was akin to jumping in a car with friends, speeding to nowhere in particular with open drinks in hands hanging out of open car windows, and laughing at their band’s stupid but endearing lyrics all the way to the raging party underneath “Wet Hair” and “I Quit Girls.” “The House that Heaven Built” is nothing like that. Nope because, as I listened to “The House That Heaven Built,” I knew I wouldn’t need a car; I could sprint to the party myself with the twelve cylinder engine that it starts in my chest with those first thick chords. For most bands, building a song that sets me on fire so much that I just want to get up and DO something is enough to call it a day: to challenge any passer-by to a bare-knuckle brawl, to tear my heart out as struggles against my ribs to burst through my chest, or to scream, jump, and embrace anyone around me from the overwhelming joy coming through the speakers. Hell, creating a song like that is enough for most careers. That isn’t enough for Brian King and David Prose. No, the Japandroids have given a human heart to their roaring, hellfire beast of a song. They’ve made their pummeling and thrashing come alive with lyrics that have heart as well as unbelievable power.
“The House That Heaven Built” turns over in one, two, and three bars of King’s rumbling guitar before a Prose’s drum enters. The song sits humming in idle as King sings about a relationship that has finally “laid to rest” as he sprints through memories of “nights forgotten and left for dead.” Lyrics haven’t been King’s strength before (See: “YOUNG HEARTS! SPARK FIRE! ALL NIGHT! OH YEAH! OH YEAH!” from “Young Hearts Strike Fire”) but the decaying urban imagery of “The House that Heaven Built” perfectly parallels the story of acceptance and movement through King’s own crumbling relationship, collapsed feelings, and pockmarked memories. King and Prose have refined their music and lyrics to work in harmony as a humming, powerful, and smooth machine. Just as the King drags out “dead,” a chorus of “oh oh oh’s” emerges from the guitars and then the song shifts into a higher gear. Prose’s cymbals skitter across the guitars as King hits reverse and stares intently out the rear view mirror. He remembers a house of love that was “built of living light where everything evil disappears and dies.” The line is pure punk poetry that would be enough to stop my breath if Prose’s drums and “oh oh oh’s” hadn’t already kicked me in the stomach. King screams the chorus, “When they love you, and they will / Tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow/ And if they try to slow you down / Tell ‘em all to go to hell.” Oh, it’s almost enough to steal the breath from my lungs.
King’s character has accepted his own failures, come to terms with the broken relationship, and has moved on. He’s celebrating their love as it dies because he knows that for all the faults and failures, what he and the girl had was special and made an impact on the rest of both of their lives; “Tell ‘em all they’ll love in my shadow.” Love may be dead for him and the girl but the memory of their love lives on in the celebration of the continuation of love with others. They’ve both moved on and as he looks back on the real “house” of her and their relationship, “blood and breath / fear, flesh, and bone,” he embraces good and bad with open arms, no regrets, and fierce defense of the girl he once loved as he commands her new lovers to treat her right, to keep her moving instead of slowing her down like he did, and to love her (almost) as much as he did. Else she should “tell ‘em all to go to hell.” He lingers on a memory of a good day that ended with the two making love “under red skies” and then turns, steels his eyes, and brakes as Prose’s drums come to a quick stop.
In the moment of calm without drums, King screams, “It’s a lifeless life / With no fixed address to give / But you’re not mine to die for anymore / So I must live.” King and Prose said that Post-Nothing’s lyrics were ““simple sloganeering” and they haven’t lost the knack for phrasing powerful ideas simply in-between chords. He’s empty, convinced he has nothing to live for as she leaves, but he looks forward to finding someone new to die for. He’s said all he can, “And now you know / And here I am,” so he moves on knowing that as he wishes her to be happy, she wishes him to be happy, too. Before I can even catch my breath or whisper “wow,” Prose’s drums rev and the song accelerates into the last two choruses. During the last chorus, King changes the words to reflect his positive outlook on his own life and his heart: “When they love me, and they will / I’ll tell ‘em all they’ll love in your shadow / And if they try to slow me down / I’ll tell ‘em all to go to hell.”
“House That Heaven Built” continues the Replacements tradition of songs that are equal parts muscle and heart. The Japandroids have created something that makes me want to pump my fist as I clutch my heart. It’s happy and sad, burly and sensitive, loud and gentle, and always, always electrifying. It’s a celebration of life and love, past and present. It’s my favorite song so far this year.