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Nickelback has its critics, but it couldn't care less. Millions of fans love what they do, and the band isn't about to let them down
Courtesy The Globe & Mail
by Guy Dixon
Monday, September 22, 2003 - The Globe & Mail, Page R3
Blame it all on Metallica.
Some people would probably like to blame a lot of things on those gods of speed metal. But one of the biggest after-effects of the tableaus they laid down showing just how to create mass-appeal hard rock -- particularly with their eighties angst and aggression awash in guitars and grumbling bass lines -- has been Canada's multi-platinum sellers Nickelback.
"There was a period of time where Chad and I would be upstairs at my mom's place. I would be in my room working on Metallica riffs, and he would be down the hall doing the same thing pretty much," said bassist Mike Kroeger, brother of front man Chad. This all happened in tiny Hanna, Alta., deep in short-grass country, a couple of hours northeast of Calgary, before relocating to Vancouver in the mid-1990s to make it big.
Metallica were "hugely influential to us, and I've gone on the record in several interviews blaming them for where we are today." He broke into a laugh. "I'm sure they're okay with that."
But Nickelback has heard all the criticism before about being too derivative, and Chad has been known in the past to get touchy about it. First, there was the angry response. Having spent a couple months in juvenile detention as a young teen, he hinted about his past run-ins with the law during the band's free outdoor concert in Toronto Saturday night. This has given him a faint aura of menace. Chad once spurred his fans by not-so-subtly threatening fellow Vancouver rocker Matthew Good in an interview with Rolling Stone for Good's criticism that Nickelback sounded like too many other bands. Similar jabs from other bands even crept into MuchMusic's coverage of the concert to promote Nickelback's new album The Long Road.
There's some obvious disconnect then between fans and non-fans here, and after listening to Nickelback's new album, it likely won't let up. There's little on it to dissuade critics and everything that will appeal to the more than nine million fans who bought their last, hugely successful album Silver Side Up. There was a point at the height of their mass exposure on North American radio that their biggest single How You Remind Me was being played continuously somewhere over the airwaves. At least two or three songs off the new album could reach that same level of saturation play.
And Nickelback knows a good formula when it hears it. There's the band's now trademark soaring, agonized choruses and life's-a-bitch earnestness. They also rely on a half-defiant, half-dejected vocal wail to hit home lyrics of domestic breakup, needs and angry demands, with electronically squelched guitars and vocals occasionally thrown in to add some variety.
Older listeners may be forgiven for thinking they've heard a lot of this before. But the point of Nickelback isn't innovation, it's to refine what works. They aren't reinventing the wheel here, as they have repeatedly said. It's rock 'n' roll. Just pump your fist and bang your head.
"It's not like we are going out untested and this is our first experience in the market. We've established a core group of people that like what we do. We want to keep them happy. We want to make sure that we're delivering the things that made them fans in the first place," Mike said.
"For us, straight-ahead rock is what we do best. So it isn't as if any of us want to explore this Frank Zappa side," he added.
But take away the shouting and the wash of guitars and there's something else -- country, particularly in a song like their latest single, Someday. Its opening line -- which will be drilled into everyone's head over the coming months if hasn't been already -- is "How the hell'd we wind up like this." That's country music. Maybe a little on the morose side, but country nonetheless.
Similarly, the band follows a kind of parallel route to country music in its touring itinerary. It's forthcoming U.S. schedule will kick off mid-October in cities such as Lubbock, Grand Prairie and Corpus Christi, Texas. "It's about knowing where you're wanted," Mike said.
But there are some surprises in the new album, like the all-too-short refrain on Feelin' Way Too Damn Good with chords akin to the Beatles' Dear Prudence and even snatches of the Police-style rim tapping and glimpses of drum and bass dance beats on Another Hole in the Head. It's a moot point, though, given the uncomplicated rock saturating the rest of the album and the fact that the band's most vociferous critics probably won't make it that far anyway.
But how long can Nickelback keep up the current formula, however successful? "Ask AC/DC, ask Angus Young," Mike laughed. "Ask him how many times you can do it. I don't see those guys hurting, and to use the words of Angus Young, they've been writing the same albums since the 1970s."
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