Despite it all, Nickelback are still going. Held up as the paradigm of shit hard rock their entire career and ceaselessly mocked for their pithy and trite songs online and yet they are still powering ahead where so many others have failed. To be clear, there are far worse bands than Nickelback. They flounder around at the average mark most of the time and don’t really deserve the cross they must bear.
The Canadian rockers are back with a new, politically motivated album titled Feed the Machine. If you think this is a bit on the nose then just remember that this is the same band that wrote a song about blowjobs and called it Something in Your Mouth. Classy dudes, right? In this new age of Neo-Nazi nerds and weaponised memes you’d be forgiven for assuming that Nickelback would fall on the side of the alt-right. Surprise! They haven’t and they hate Trump and his cronies just as much as the rest of us. Still, as admirable as their politics might be they’re still bad at making music.
A quick listen to a few of Nickelback’s most popular songs will reveal a formula pretty quickly. About three or four power chords backed by stiff drumming in a basic time signature combined with lyrics about love, sex, and beer. Pour it all into a bucket, mix and boom you have a Nickelback song. So, what’s kept them going the past twenty-two years? Two things: Chad Kroeger’s passionate vocals and a field of four leaf clovers worth of luck.
Chad Kroeger’s skill as a songwriter has fluctuated over the years. He whined about the good ol’ days on meme mine Photograph. He wrote a pretty good satire with Rockstar. When We Stand Together was a passionate plea for aid in the ongoing Refugee Crisis. On Feed the Machine Kroeger mostly falls back on tired old tropes which comes as no surprise. With all that said Chad Kroeger can still carry a tune. His voice soars like a gruff angel and drops like a gruffer demon. He growls across Home and snarls on title track Feed the Machine. His voice does him no favours on ballads like Song on Fire and Every Time We’re Together. The man is more suited to singing about beer and weed not treacly high school romances but politics suits him nicely as well.
“Blood on your hands, Pawn inside the masterplan!” Kroeger hollers on Silent Majority the only other political song on the album. Silent Majority and Feed the Machine are the album’s two best songs and probably the two Nickelback songs with the most depth to them, ever. Kroeger sneers and yells over chugging riffs and drums that, even after two decades, remain stiff as a board. Lines like “The gears forever turn to grind the mice” and “The Piper blows his flute and off you go” on Feed the Machine are hard hitting jabs at political figures that, at this stage, the world is all too familiar with. Even the cheesy guitar solo on the title track feels like a small act of rebellion.
Still two decent political anthems do not a good album make. Most of the other songs fall flat and go in one ear and out the other. The Betrayal Act III is strangely placed instrumental aside. For the River is an interesting concept that would probably have been better off in the hands of any other hard rock band such as The Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age. Coin for the Ferryman feels like Nickelback-lite, a PG-13 rated version of their chauvinistic sex anthem Next Contestant. It is one of many forgettable Nickelback songs.
Nickelback are a strange band. They have sold fifty million records worldwide and continue to trundle on despite the vitriol levelled at them by music critics. Much like The Foo Fighters all their songs sound the same but Chad Kroeger doesn’t have the prestige of having been in a band with someone as iconic as Kurt Cobain. Nickelback defy all the odds and come back stronger with every album sold. The real machine is Nickelback and we are all just feeding it. Andrew Carroll