Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”

Written by December 10th, 2012 at 6:00 am

Many of the adoring press clippings that have deservedly been leveled at Japandroids’ marvelous second album, Celebration Rock, have been focused on the band’s ability to write unabashedly positive rock songs without a trace of irony. While it is true that the band’s songs aren’t navel-gazing downers, they’re by no means blind to the sadness in life either. Indeed, what makes “The House That Heaven Built” the album’s standout track and one of the best singles released in 2012 is the trace of melancholy that runs through it.

With his guitar blazing forth and drummer David Prowse raining debris all around him, Brian King sings, or should I say screams, out his lyrics about looking back at a special relationship, one that has run its course like a fiery comet too incendiary to endure. Indeed, the final verse testifies to the narrator’s rootless, unmoored present-day existence even as it hints at his resilience: “It’s a lifeless life with no fixed address to give/But you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live.”

Maybe it’s hard to hear those subtle shadings above the thunderous music and “Whoa-oh” shouts that punctuate each line of the verses. Or maybe that’s King’s point: That we have to barrel right through the sadness with our heads down to come out the other side intact.

The amazing rattle conjured up by Japandroids on the song was apparently a bit of studio serendipity, as King told The Village Voice in a recent interview: “It was the only song I think on the whole record that we more or less tried to do in one and we got it on the first try. Most of the other songs we recorded a million times in different ways and some of the songs we could just never get it, or never get something we were happy with. And that one actually took the least amount of effort to get what we wanted. I don’t know what that means, but there was the least amount of fighting over it.”

For all of King’s musings on light-filled houses and reddened skies, what really hits home is the tender love story at the heart of all those portents. The songwriter captures that emotional core in the moving chorus: “When they love you (and they will)/Tell them all, they’ll love in my shadow/And if they try to slow you down/Tell them all, to go to hell.”

Because there are only two of them making all this noise and because King prefers lyrics with no hidden agendas, some might mitigate the achievement of Celebration Rock by calling it simple. That’s a mistake, because Japandroids create something far more profound than brawny, blunt punk rock. “The House That Heaven Built” is the best proof of that, showing how celebrations mean nothing unless measured in contrast to the heartbreak the celebrators have overcome.

“The House That Heaven Built”

When the soul of the city
Was laid to rest
And the nights forgotten and left for dead

I happened on a house
Built of living light
Where everything evil disappears and dies

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

I settled in slowly, to this house that you call home
To blood and breath, fear, flesh and bone

We’ll shove our bodies in the heat of the night
all day the day after, blood in the skies

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

It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give
but you’re not mine to die for anymore
so I must live

Born of a bottle, from heavens hand
and now you know and here I am

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

When they love me and they will
I’ll tell ‘em all the love in your shadow
And if they try to slow me down
I’ll tell ‘em all to go to hell.

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