Nobody says they like Nickelback; they do not have devotees. There aren’t any “Nickelheads” running around. As I write this, people in Detroit are petitioning to not have them play at the Lions’ Thanksgiving game halftime show. Yet somehow, the Canadians have sold 50 million records. So the blue-collar rockers apparently are “of the people,” but none of those people want us to know who they are–sort of like Opus Dei.
Does Nickelback deserve our wrath? Probably not, but that says more aboutwhere we should be directing our wrath these days. On their new album, Here And Now, the hard rockers’ preferred milieu is a dive bar, and their protagonist is an agitated, maybe bipolar drinker who doesn’t follow the news. He also likes oral sex, almost as much as he likes coming up with metaphors for oral sex. Maybe you urban folk don’t run into this guy much, but travel about twenty miles outside city limits–you’ll find him in a heartbeat.
Lead singer Chad Kroeger delivers every emotion, whether it’s semi-political rage, horniness, or yearbook sentiment, with the same brash, Tourette-y tenor Bobcat Goldthwaite used. This works best when Kroeger’s promoting social change or getting everyone drunk. When he tries to be romantic, it’s a little distracting. The band hasn’t changed their approach much from previous albums: sludgy tablets of compressed metal guitar riffs over thunderous drumming. Even the ballads eventually get to that point of rage and release.
What’s most hilarious about Nickelback is how drastically they swing between a plane that approximates social consciousness and a perplexing effort to be hedonistic. “This Means War” kicks off the record with imprecise anti-nationalism sentiments; the very next song is “Bottoms Up”, with lyrics like “Let’s drink that shit till it’s dry/ So grab a Jim Beam, J.D., whatever you need.”
It ain’t a Nickelback record without man-tastic sexual exploits, and we have three here. Kroeger does try to find nice things to say about his targets. In “Midnight Queen” he admits his bartender has “a hold of my heart,” and he can’t wait until she “licks my pistol clean.” In “Gotta Get Me Some” he says his girlfriend’s friend is so hot, “she’s a scene from a Baywatch rerun.” I liked that line. That shows you what cultural reference points we’re dealing with here–wonderful. Finally in “Everything I Wanna Do,” Kroeger at last humanizes his female by marveling about how their kinky sex is, gasp, consensual.
Honestly, it’s hard to be mad at a band whose self-expectations are about as high as an anthill, especially when their music and mentality are so blatantly out of touch with contemporary society. Nickelback knows their audience. They make big, blocky sounds for people with big, blocky feelings. If they’ve filled that niche, what does it matter?
Give Nickelback this much: Plenty of bands can be mediocre, but very few embrace their own mediocrity. Like Salieri at the end of Amadeus, or the Tea Party, Nickelback practically celebrates it. They call upon other mediocrities to aggressively ignore prevailing wisdom. Perhaps they’re who are buying Nickelback albums. If you see yourself happily wobbling amongst that contingent, by all means feel free to obtain and enjoy Here And Now, with crazy bread and ranch dressing on the side.