Never in the long and illustrious history of rock music have I seen a band divide audience opinion to such a drastic extent as Nickelback. The Canadian four-piece, fronted by vomit-inducing singer-guitarist Chad Kroeger, have been loved and hated in equally extreme measures ever since they exploded onto the international scene back in 2001 with their hit single ‘How You Remind Me’. And in recent years they’ve given listeners even more reason to hate them, with the onslaught of cheesy pop songs and tasteless riff-fests crumbling the foundations of even the strongest fans’ justifications to a dangerously weak level. Now, with their seventh album Here and Now, have they finally overcome their tendency to be revered, or have they simply fallen deeper into the dark depths of mediocrity?
I have always been a huge fan of Nickelback. My reasoning for this was simple: “They mix simple pop songwriting with awesome rock hooks, what could possibly be wrong with that?” That was all well and good for a few years, until somewhere along the line the band lost sight of their Metallica-planted roots and became pretentious (around the time Kroeger started straightening his hair, I think). Nickelback’s first three albums – Curb, The State and Silver Side Up – really were brilliant; they mixed emotional lyrics and melodies with hard rock instrumentation into something which hadn’t previously been presented in such an exquisite and accessible way. Pop hits like ‘Leader of Men‘ and ‘How You Remind Me‘ propelled them into mainstream knowledge, at which point the rock onslaught of such tracks as ‘Breathe‘ and ‘Where Do I Hide‘ reminded listeners that the band still had ‘spunk’. On The Long Road there was only one really obviously ‘poppy’ song in sight, and ‘Someday‘ sounded exactly the same as ‘How You Remind Me’ anyway. The rest of the album was full of some genuinely incredible hard rock songs; the future was looking bright for these young lads from Alberta.
Somewhere during the writing phase for fifth album All the Right Reasons though, something went a little bit wrong. To be honest, this is probably their strongest album to-date, but there are definitely some unforgivable moments on the record which can now never be undone. Since their second album Nickelback have very much stuck to the same formula: the first song will always be a heavy song with a huge riff, usually in drop-D tuning (‘Flat on the Floor‘); the third will always be the first single, a cheesy pop hit (‘Gotta Be Somebody‘); and the album closer will usually be a slightly alternative track, often driven by acoustic guitar (‘Good Times Gone‘). With All the Right Reasons, they also started the new trend of including more pop songs. Way more. Not only do we have to sit through the cheesy ‘Photograph‘, but we’re also taken to cringe central with ‘Far Away‘. Dark Horse took this to new extremes, and really started to create strong doubts over the band’s capabilities for avid fans such as myself. ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ was probably the biggest pile of bubblegum pop ever put out by the band; that is, until you got to track seven and heard ‘Never Gonna Be Alone‘. ‘I’d Come for You‘, ‘If Today Was Your Last Day‘ – the cheesy shit was worryingly starting to outweigh the good stuff. This was made worse by the fact that even the potentially good songs were being ruined by stupid lyrics with pathetic subject matter and themes: Chad Kroeger is nearly 40 now, so he should really stop singing about how much he wants to sleep with young cheerleaders and smoke drugs all day – surely by now he’s had some major life-changing experiences that he could write about?
So, enough of the history lesson: the point is that hopes were pretty damn low for Here and Now. Surely it couldn’t be worse than Dark Horse? Surely the band could write some better lyrics than “Sex is always the answer/It’s never a question/’Cause the answer’s yes/Oh the answer’s yes”? Surely they had gotten all the cheesy pop out of their system? Well… not exactly. At first I thought that Here and Now is definitely a step in the right direction. As usual the album opens promisingly, with a super-heavy riff searing through your speakers in the opening few seconds of ‘This Means War’. The theme of the song is conflict, so that’s one up on the sleazy theme of ‘Something in Your Mouth‘. The delivery of the lyrics is much weaker though, and the chorus is pretty forgettable compared to the entry from Dark Horse. Moving on. ‘Bottoms Up‘ can be fairly likened to its Dark Horse counterpart ‘Burn It to the Ground‘ (I told you they stick to a formula), and is again probably weaker. Both are about drinking, both are are ‘hard rockers’; the difference is that ‘Bottoms Up’ is quite easily skippable, while ‘Burn It…’ is actually an enjoyable track. Either way, Chad should stop singing about drinking.
Great, it’s the pop hit next. Lead single ‘When We Stand Together‘ is again pretty forgettable, but at the very least it’s (arguably) less cheesy than ‘Gotta Be Somebody’. The former is basically saying “There’s a lot wrong with the world; let’s work together and make it better”; the latter says something like “God, why can’t I find a woman?” – enough said, selflessness wins. ‘Midnight Queen’ is another heavy number, more like ‘Animals‘ from All the Right Reasons than ‘I’d Come for You’ from Dark Horse. With a lyric like “She’ll lick my pistol clean” though, it’s instantly doomed. A like-for-like at track five: it’s all sex with ‘Gotta Get Me Some’ and ‘Next Go Round’. Here and Now‘s track is pretty funky, with a slap bassline leading proceedings, but is just as forgettable as ‘Next Go Round’ to be honest. Draw. If you thought ‘Far Away’ was a cheesy title, you’ll cringe to high hell when you approach track six on the new album: it’s called ‘Lullaby’. It doesn’t start off badly though, with some nice piano and a pretty nice melody leading into the first verse, and the chorus is frankly epic, so we’ll let this one slide through. But oh my God, there’s a song called ‘Kiss It Goodbye’ next!? It’s another riff-fest though, and it’s actually about New York City, so maybe Chad and co. just suck at coming up with decent titles. Either way, it’s definitely better than ‘Never Gonna Be Alone’.
So at the moment, if you’re keeping score, it’s three all between Here and Now and Dark Horse. Looking at the tracklisting, all four remaining titles fill you with dread, and you expect the worst. Well, you’re right to. ‘Trying Not to Love You’ is pretty much awful. Just another cheesy pop hit built on vocal harmonies and conveyor-belt lyrics. ‘Holding on to Heaven’ is pretty much the same, and actually just sounds like a second part of the previous track. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s actually worse than ‘S.E.X.’ from Dark Horse. ‘If Today Was Your Last Day’ is an extremely moving song in all fairness, and ‘Everything I Wanna Do’ is frankly insultingly poor in comparison. There’s just nothing memorable in the song, and one of the lyrics is “You and me/Sitting in a tree/F-U-C-K-I-N-G” for crying out loud. Here and Now comes to a car-crash end with ‘Don’t Ever Let It End’. I hate to repeat myself, but it’s just another cheesy pile of rubbish. A very ironically-titled song to put at the end of such a terrible album.
I personally have lost all hope in Nickelback. They were once one of my favourite bands, but in recent years they have let their pop leanings completely take over their once brilliant art of songwriting. Nickelback in 2011 are a completely different band to that with which I fell in love back in 2001. There’s not much more to be said than that.
Good: There are a couple of hard rock tracks which save it from being a complete disaster.
Bad: Cheesy lyrics, boring themes, nothing memorable, completely different to what Nickelback fans know and love.