Review Summary: Starting to sink.
In my opinion, Nickelback’s career thus far can be catalogued into three distinct phases.
Phase 1: Validation (Curb
, The State
, Silver Side Up
, The Long Road
Phase 2: Damnation (All The Right Reasons
, Dark Horse
, Here and Now
Phase 3: Salvation (No Fixed Address
, Feed The Machine
To be honest, material from the first and third phase of the band’s journey is actually of some merit. From a purely analytical standpoint, though, the most interesting albums are All The Right Reasons
and No Fixed Address
. All The Right Reasons
is, however, clearly the focus here. The band had just come off of The Long Road
, one of their strongest and heaviest outings to this day, and they were riding the waves of success they had worked so hard to earn. Where Silver Side Up
utilizes a more mellow approach, The Long Road
cranks everything up to eleven, embracing alternative metal stylings. That project is far from perfect, but the riffs are tight, the vocals are appropriately gruff, the rhythm section of the band aids in carrying the heavier style, and the lyrics fit the tone of the project quite well. One would think that the band would choose to continue pursuing the darker, more metal-focused sound that was established on that record.
For some reason, this is not what happened. Maybe it was the success of mid-tempo rocker “Someday”, maybe it was a legitimate interest in diversifying the catalogue, but whatever the reason, Nickelback chose to take another direction with their follow-up. Thus, a lot of the most detested components about the band were introduced. Unnecessarily graphic, sexualized lyrics? Check (“It’s just a little hard to leave/when you’re going down on me… on the bus, it’s the best/ when I blow it on your chest”). Over-the-top, testosterone-fueled pseudo-bravado? Check (“Everybody keeps coming onto her...I’m hating what she’s wearing/everybody here keeps staring…Is that your hand on my girlfriend?/is that your hand?... I’ll watch you leave here limping”). Ham-fisted attempts at inspirational ballads, specifically crafted for adult contemporary radio play? Check (“I love you/I’ve loved you all along/and I miss you/been far away far too long”).
Rock single “Animals” is the archetype of this album’s general blueprint. The main riff is insanely simple, especially in comparison to the more intricate guitar work on the previous two records (see “Woke Up This Morning” and “Because Of You” for proof that this group can actually write engaging music when they try). Chad and the gang may have thought that lyrics comparing a gearshift to a cock and sex in a car to sex between wild animals were clever, but alas, they are not. Again, this track is a prime example of how the group chose to intentionally dumb their work down for All The Right Reasons.
On the ballad side, the album fares little better. “If Everyone Cared” contains lyrics such as: “If everyone cared/and nobody cried/if everyone loved/and nobody lied”, which is beyond wishful thinking and rests solely in the realm of Hallmark cards. “Far Away” is a lazy, boring attempt at pandering to country and adult contemporary radio stations, complete with acoustic guitars and even an orchestra. I’m aware that “Photograph” is off of this album, and it’s awful, but that horse has rightfully been beat to death.
To be fair, this is only the beginning of the worst phase of this band’s career, and as such, there are some positives to note. The production throughout its gorgeous and keeps everything crystal clear, and extra props to the band’s consistently rock solid guitar tone. As horrendous as some of these lyrics get, the music occasionally softens the blow. While “Rockstar” is absolutely beyond saving, “Fight For All The Wrong Reasons” is a sonic barn-burner, in spite of its juvenile efforts at crafting a toxic relationship/breakup song. “Follow You Home” is a complete package, though, with playfully creepy lyrics- so over-the-top that they cannot be taken seriously- about a stalker, and a nice, southern rock-fried spice to add some flavor. “Savin’ Me” is a powerful ballad, properly utilizing orchestral elements that blend well with Chad’s voice. The lyrics are, surprisingly, provoking, discussing a man who knows he needs to change, but isn’t quite sure if he can see it through. As for Kroeger’s vocals, they will always be an acquired taste, but they fit this project well enough.
However, in large part, the changes the band decided to make were bad, and make for a far below-average post-grunge effort. Opting to dumb down the lyrics and instrumentals in favor of a more “commercial” approach may well have succeeded financially, but that decision sunk this band in the eyes of several casual and hardcore fans.