Review Summary: The question remains, unanswered: who actually likes Nickelback?
A recent LA Times feature (yeah, yeah, I’ll get my coat...) on the rise of “flyover rock,” a title invented for the purposes of the article, tries (and fails) to answer a question that’s perplexed music fans for years but is impossible to answer without sounding like a complete snob: who actually likes
Leaders of the mainstream rock scene in the States by sales volume, as well as any other conceivable measure, the Canadian four-piece have subtly evolved over the years, gradually discarding the gruff Vedderisms of old for a more natural, melodic style. Tentative strides into the realm of country have been made, with the grungey acoustics of ‘Someday’ et al. seamlessly substituted for something a little more jangly, while frontman Chad Kroeger has even begun to sport something akin to a twang on tracks like ‘Never Gonna Be Alone’ from their latest LP, Dark Horse
. But probably the most predictable development of all has been the increasingly overbearing presence of co
ck rock in the mix: where the band would, in the past, have explained away their heavier rock tendencies with token nods to Metallica and other universally-respected metal icons, Dark Horse
sees the band come clean about their true influences, drafting in Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange for a much-needed injection of sleazeball sex.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s always been more or less understood that Chad Kroeger is a complete horndog, but it’s only recently, with the trailblazing success of ‘Crazy Bitch’ and ‘Get Stoned,’ that casual misogyny has become popular again on rock radio and safe territory for Nickelback to mine. ‘Something In Your Mouth’ kicks the album off with characteristic blunt force, telling the story (read: fantasy) of the stripper who just loves to tease (like there’s any other kind): “Tease them all while sucking on your thumb [...] 'Cause you look so much cuter with something in your mouth.”
‘Shakin’ Hands’ proceeds along similar lines, though the subject in this case is a high-class hooker who makes ”six figures workin’ three days a week”
and ”didn’t make it this far by just shakin’ hands”
. She made it this far by shaking something else! It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s also implied that she loves it. ‘S.E.X.’ is the closest Kroeger comes to actually saying something explicit, so it stands to reason that it’s the least explicit of the three named songs in terms of imagery, although he does wonder aloud if he’ll ever get to have an unnamed body part (we’re thinking asshole) under his tongue (why under?). We can only assume that she will love it, although it sounds uncomfortable.
From the opening bars of ‘Something In Your Mouth,’ Lange’s expansive arena rock production is a major factor in the album’s dynamic, with a booming, synthetic drum sound, gang vocals and the obligatory hand-clap percussion section recalling his former charges at their sugar-pouring best. The guitar riff sits somewhere between the country-funk of ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ and whatever squealy mosh riff Zakk Wylde happens to be hammering out at the time, while the stop-start chugga-cuhhga of ‘Burn It To The Ground’ bears more than a passing resembles to Pantera’s epic ‘Walk.’ The latter could easily be an outtake from Motley Crue’s 1994 self-titled (when they briefly beefed up with second guitarist/singer John Corabi), while ‘Next Go Round’ is reminiscent of the Crue’s similarly ill-fated (but inspired) sojourn into industrial metal, Generation Swine
. There are few audible traces of the band’s post-grunge past, aside from the swampy picked-guitar patterns of druggie’s lament ‘Just To Get High,’ while the rest of the disc is solid pop-country, from the ever-optimistic Lonestar-like lead single ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ to the sweeping Nashville harmonies of ‘Never Gonna Be Alone.’
There’s no question about which side of the disc is the more interesting- sleaze beats manufactured sentiment any day- but ultimately it’s the country half that most people will pay attention to, and to that end there is very little to actively criticise. Nickelback have always had a flair for inoffensive MOR pop, and in truth there is very little to tell between songs like ‘Photograph’ and ‘Gotta Be Somebody.’ Cynical though it is, Nickelback have had to adapt, and adapt quickly, in order to remain on top of their game; they’ve always been a musically eclectic bunch, so there was scarcely any doubt they’d be able to handle the transition. The “down and out but searching for meaning” schtick Kroeger’s got going on is a necessary counterpoint to the crass misogyny that he boasts elsewhere on the album, but the price of such base-covering is that it’s hard to know what to believe and what not to believe. And so, the problem that plagues Dark Horse
is the one that’s plagued Nickelback records for years: no matter how strong the musicianship and how infectious the melodies, it’s practically impossible to relate to any of it.
The question remains, unanswered: who actually likes