Review Summary: A bit different, a bit of the same. A bit better than usual, though.
I’m going to confront the elephant in the room head-on: no, this is not a grand reinvention of Nickelback’s tried-and-true style.
As much as many people want to see that (and seem to be expecting it), it might be too much to ask a band with such a recognizable comfort zone to immediately pull a 180-degree turn into new territory. But before you walk away from this review, keep reading. Feed the Machine
, while pulling the same old stops for a Nickelback album, is easily the band’s most refined and energized product since their breakthrough hit Silver Side Up
. Yep, after a whole 16 years of nonstop mockery and hate mail, Chad Kroeger and his band of post-grungers have decided to give us something a bit more dignified and well-written. And, all things considered, this is not a bad album by any means. If anything, it’s a somewhat solid mainstream rock offering with strong hints of alternative metal strewn about. One wishes the band’s potential could have been touched upon years ago, but you know the old saying: “better late than never.”
The oddest thing about Feed the Machine
, and the reason that it ultimately falls short of greatness, is that it straddles multiple styles in a seriously imbalanced way. Hearing the heavy downtuned - and even surprisingly progressive - metal anthem “The Betrayal (Act III)” coupled with bland ballads like “Every Time We’re Together” and “Song on Fire” might end up causing rifts in Nickelback’s already-polarized fanbase, just as the varied levels of lyrical quality could as well. That said, the variety is still fun once in a while. The intro to the cheesy rocker “Must Be Nice,” while pretty standard for Nickelback’s typical cock-rock fare, is so groovy and bluesy that the flaws are much less noticeable by comparison. The heavier moments found on songs like the title track and “Coin for the Ferryman” are aggressive as hell in this outing, and they occasionally contrast well with the sappy balladry that causes the album’s tonal imbalance. The band have also upped their game on the musicianship front; while famed Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt has to carry the solo duties on “For the River,” Chad Kroeger and Ryan Peake are able to bust out some decent solos and melodies in their own right. While the rhythm section is as boring as it’s always been, the increased chemistry and personality of the guitar work were a neat surprise.
The truth is, the best moments on Feed the Machine
are the ones in which the band throw their old mainstream shackles away and just embrace metal. The ballads here sound both tired and dated, and simply don’t suffice in a discography that’s already drenched in tired ballads. In fact, I swear the chorus of “After the Rain” rips off the main melody to “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida. And as I mentioned, some of these songs sound ridiculously dated. The uptempo power ballad “Silent Majority,” while at least exuding some energy, sounds like it came straight from an old post-grunge edition of Now That’s What I Call Music
that would have been popular in the mid-2000s. It offers nothing new or interesting, and just results in another skippable tune for the listener to filter out. With this in mind, I must still admit that some of the experiments on the album result in highly rewarding payoffs. The two biggest here are the chunky, aggressive riffing of “Coin for the Ferryman” and the progressive metal stylings of “The Betrayal (Act III).” These songs completely abandon the band’s old cliches to deliver something that’s honest-to-god fun and steeped in genuine effort. They’re heavy, they have memorable riffs, and they present the true stylistic stepping stones in this experience.
For the first time in quite a while, I didn’t really know what rating I’d give Feed the Machine
or whether to recommend it. This is a classic case of Nickelback giving us really nice songwriting and concepts before shooting themselves in the foot for making stupid decisions at the cusp of greatness. I will say that the positive aspects of Feed the Machine
are some of the best things I’ve ever heard from this band, but they really need to decide whether to move forward with these changes or to replant themselves in the past. This half-and-half deal isn’t quite going to cut it, and it might end up warding off more of their fanbase than the usual Nickelback record because of it. But, because of those positives, I think Feed the Machine
deserves a slight recommendation at the end of the day. It may not sway ardent haters, but those who are genuinely interested in hearing the band touch up their sound and try some new things might find something they enjoy.