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Nickelback

Dark Horse

(Roadrunner; US: 18 Nov 2008; UK: 17 Nov 2008)

Apparently, Nickelback is “critic-proof.” 


As many articles are quick to point out, Nickelback have never received much love from critics, spawning indifference in some sectors and outright hatred in others. When this group of Canadian rockers broke into the mainstream with 2001’s “How You Remind Me”, they carried with them seemingly huge ambitions: Singer Chad Kroeger attempts to paint vivid character portraits with his boisterous rock guitars and everyman rock vocals. Nickelback, after all, is a “serious” band, and they demand to be treated as such.  Following “How You Remind Me”, Nickelback kept knocking out huge rock hits year after year, and its albums kept selling by the bucket load, and—like all great radio titans—the band rarely (if ever) changed up their sound. When All the Right Reasons dropped in 2005, few could have imagined it becoming a slow-burning mega seller, continually popping off hits, staying on the charts for over three years and moving nearly eight million copies in the process—a feat virtually unimaginable in today’s retail climate.


Yet even hardcore fans could detect a bit of change in Kroeger’s worldview as time pressed on. “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good”, a 2004 hit, showed the band was slowly shying away from the “serious” songs that Nickelback had made its trademark. In 2006-07, “Rockstar” became another calling card for the group—a song about everyone’s desires to become, well, rock stars. Kroeger no longer focused his writing on affecting stories of everyday people: His songs were slowly becoming more and more about himself, which confirms why Dark Horse is one of the most introverted, self-serving albums you’re likely to hear all year.


Dark Horse is


all

about Kroeger, and, from the sounds of it, he’s as horny as ever. Virtually every song on the disc tackles sex or drinking (or both)—an unabashed celebration of the heterosexual hedonism that Kroeger feels entitled to. Instead of coming off as macho, however, Kroeger sounds sophomoric, inane and downright stupid. “She rocks it like the naughty Wicked Witch of the West” he declares on “Shakin’ Hands”, a line that’s laughably bad not because of Kroeger’s poor word choices, but because Kroeger delivers the “it” without even a hint of irony. He genuinely means it. He also genuinely believes the booty-shaking girl at the center of “Something in Your Mouth” should believe this to be a compliment: “You look so much cuter / With something in your mouth”. Given the lewd lyrical surroundings of the chorus, we’re lead to believe that the “something” is one thing and one thing only, and, with that, Kroeger objectifies women in a way that borders on downright offensive.


Sex is always the answer
It’s never a question
‘Cos the answer’s yes
It’s not just a suggestion
If you ask the question
Then it’s always yes
—“S.E.X.”


Here, the band sounds as propulsive as they’ve ever been, aided by producer “Mutt” Lange, the man behind such horndog classics as Def Leppard’s Hysteria and AC/DC’s Back in Black.  While those albums were high watermarks of its respective head-banging sub-genres, Dark Horse claws at the bottom of the barrel. “I’d Come for You” proves generic enough of a non-sexual anthem that it could be covered by a band like Switchfoot without anyone noticing; lead single “Gotta Be Somebody” makes clear Kroeger has a sensitive side, and that somebody has to be out there for him; and “If Today Was Your Last Day” could easily find its way into that echelon of soundalike Nickelback songs that made the mash-up parody “How Your Remind Me of Someday” so very endearing.


Perhaps it wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss the band if they didn’t keep retreating to the same sonic territory again and again, but Dark Horse finds the group at a creative low point. Each song sounds like an older, better Nickelback hit, and Kroeger only once displays his prior songwriting strength with the sad-bastard portrait “Just to Get High”, which, lyrically, hits on the same themes that made songs like “Someday” resonate to begin with. The rest of the time, he gives us inept frat-boy observations about the effects drinking has on him (“That shit makes me / Batshit crazy” he declares on “Burn It to the Ground”), shows us that he can spell (the letters of “S.E.X.” apparently mean that “S is for the simple needs / E is for the ecstasy / X is just to mark the spot / ‘Cos that’s the one you really want”) and then unimaginatively says he wants to “do it ‘til the sun comes up” on the furious “Next Go Round”. Though many have dismissed the like-minded band Hinder as a boneheaded Nickelback knockoff group (as painfully evidenced here), Nickelback never has sounded more like Hinder.

In the end, yes, Nickelback is “critic-proof”, as evidenced by Dark Horse debuting at number two on the charts shortly before this review ran, proving no criticism—no matter how scathingly bad—can keep this band down. However, this doesn’t mean Nickelback is free of critique, and as Kroeger has reached his songwriting wits end with this disc, perhaps fans will return in kind and let Kroeger and co. know when enough is enough. When Kroeger declares it’s “last call, you sons of bitches!” on the country-rock closer “This Afternoon”, all you’re left with is the feeling that you should have left this party a long, long time ago.

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and multiple national newspapers. Evan has been a guest on WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album (available for free at GoodWithWordsAlbum.com), and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry, and many others. He is a current member of The Recording Academy and resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


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