Nickelback: Dark Horse

Evan Sawdey

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.


Dark Horse

Label: Roadrunner
US Release Date: 2008-11-18
UK Release Date: 2008-11-17

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


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.






Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.