The Conservative party of rock records.
Nickelback is a Canadian phenomenon both in the sense that they’ve had huge international success and ironically, few will openly admit to being fans. Praise for them is only spoken in intimate whispers traded in the shadows – the sort of secrets we share when we risk baring our souls while knowingly risking judgment. For many, Nickelback came to symbolize what happened when you watered down metal so it would appeal to pop fans. Their singles became so commonplace on daytime radio that there seemed to be no more pride left in admitting that you were one of the ones that propelled that success. But what’s hard to deny is that what they did, they did very well. In fact they had it down to a much-maligned and at this point well-documented formula of heavy, precision riffs, Chad Kroeger’s genetically engineered perfect rock rasp and powerful hooks written around fairly pedestrian themes. On their 9th studio album, they’ve abandoned the simplicity of the original formula in favour of something far more ambitious – an amalgamation of many successful formulas that can best be described as what would happen if Disturbed wrote and performed music by Taylor Swift.
“Every Time We’re Together”, which will absolutely be among the first singles from the record, is a perfect illustration of the unholy mash-up of rock, cowboy boots and shimmery pop. The chorus pattern could be ripped from any and every country-pop crossover record to come out in the last decade. You can’t help but wonder if Chad’s ex-wife Avril Lavigne had some writing influence here. Despite being notably out of place among the rest of the songs on the album, it resonates as a line-dance friendly anthem for nostalgia and looking back on one’s glory days – right down to the mention of home towns, high schools and the prerequisite reference to what “Mama always taught us…” It’s catchy and the data says people will love it, whether they admit it or not.
“Coin for the Ferryman” – an allusion to danger and death which feels a little on the nose as a metaphor nevertheless sounds great growled out in the world’s most unabashed, over the top, faux rock ‘n’ roll drawl since Def Leppard dropped their ever-present Hysteria.
The band doesn’t even bother with the pretense on “Song on Fire” – a straight up New Country chart topper with dubby, echoing guitar lines setting up another monster sing-along hook which was designed from the ground up for lighters in auditoriums and a swirling wind of hairspray generated from the mullets of a stadium full of former Bryan Adams fans. If Canada could be said to have a roots rock sound, this pretty much nails it.
The most cringe-worthy moments of the record are also the hardest. On “Must be Nice,” Kroeger celebrates the sin of coveting thy neighbour’s success while f-bombing his way through indignant, child-like resentment with lines like “Oh it must be nice/ To spend each day in paradise/ You wonder why you ever failed/ Your life’s a god-damn fairy tale!” Between lines, he and Ryan Peake fill up the volatile atmosphere with undeniably explosive guitar riffs and masterful rock solos which will have you tearing your tight black jeans in pelvic thrusts.
On a brighter note, “After the Rain” is truly a catchy and redeemable song. What the rest of the record does wrong, this song seems to get right. Rather than trying to be something it’s not, it settles for simple pop melody, easy, relatable lyrics and to be perfectly honest, this feels like where Nickelback probably should have found their sweet spot. These massively appealing hooks are their biggest strength. On the rest of the album they act like the stones you can hop to between song verses that are otherwise bowel-bindingly cheesy. “Stick your diamond ring where the sun don’t shine!”
There is absolutely no doubt this album will be another hit for Nickelback. They deserve it, if only because they’ve painstakingly practiced the art of the hard rock song formula and found a way to merge it successfully with the most mass-appealing bits from metal, pop, country and modern sentiment. There isn’t a song on this record that doesn’t resonate with our most base instincts, a certain kind of simple, uncomfortably relatable, fist-in-the-air, “I’ve had enough of something and I am not entirely sure what” je ne sais quoi. It’s the Conservative party of rock records.