Like eating hot wings rubbed with ghost chilies or swimming to Alcatraz, listening to a new Nickelback album requires an intrepid spirit, a certain pain tolerance, and a thirst for endorphins. Among the many scintillating things you can say about this band—and there are many, and we will say them—is that they've delivered, consistently, over and over and over, on the promise of being Nickelback. They are defiantly, humongously knuckle-headed, though no more or less so than countless other cultural phenomena, and therefore a band for our time.
Thus, their new album, No Fixed Address, opens exactly as it has to: with an indistinct THX crescendo of compressed audio that explodes into raging guitars that sound like a chainsaw cutting through power lines, or a weapon invented by Tony Stark. Real talk: I LOL'd when I first heard it. Because in a certain frame of mind, it is hard not to smile when you hear this music. If you approach it as, like, a natural phenomenon, like say the grandeur of really large trees or the fact that certain humans have the physical prowess to dunk basketballs or hit home runs, it's possible to see the persistence of Nickelback as a minor miracle. They're like that lava running down the volcano in Hawaii, red hot and indomitable. (BTW, the band makes its home in Maui, a fact that conjures images of its members in Hawaiian shirts, which is funny, which is why I shared it.)
Of course, here on the internet, very few us have access to that frame of mind, at least not when it comes Nickelback. In the world of music fandom, a kind of Godwin's law exists, whereby any conversation about the quality spectrum of popular music will eventually include a reference to the Canadian post-grunge quartet. They're everyone's favorite punching bag, despite being quantitatively the most popular rock band of the 2000s, selling over 50 million albums. I got in a punch or two from time to time. You probably did, too. It's crazy, how much people revile this band.
It started with that one guy's most excellent mashup of Nickelback hits "Someday" and "How You Remind Me," which, the story goes, he made for his girlfriend in order to demonstrate how similar all the band's songs sound. (Confession: I think that mashup, as a stand-alone piece of music, is delightful.) But that was only the beginning. In addition to routinely scoring high (or low) on reader polls of worst bands, Nickelback have been the target of a number of online petitions aimed at canceling a tour or appearance, including a halftime gig at a 2011 Detroit Lions game, which the band played anyway, supposedly to "boos," but it's hard to confirm that. Every band has haters, but Nickelback's haters are uniquely mobilized, and/or the mobilization efforts are uniquely covered in the uniquely smug music press.
Is such hatred justified? Join me as we assess the quality of No Fixed Address so that we might answer this question. As mentioned, it starts with the pyrotechnics of "Million Miles an Hour," a song that references "tripping balls" and concerns the attendant euphoria of same. It is followed by "Edge of a Revolution," a mid-tempo bruiser at least partially inspired by the events in Ferguson, Mo, and during which Chad Kroeger runs down a laundry list of quibbles with The Man: "Wall Street / Common thief / When they get caught they all go free."
"Got Me Runnin' Around" is about having a threesome. It's got this kind of "Low Rider" Latin rhythm, with horns and bongos and a guest verse by Flo Rida. Dig this lyric: "There's no way to sugarcoat it you were busy motorboatin' on that blonde girl." Meanwhile, "Get 'Em Up" has probably the most rippin' guitar lead on the record, and tells the story of some inept thieves who stick up a bank on a Sunday. If you're looking for hints about Kroeger's recent divorce from Avril Lavigne, once [shudder] the Jay and Bey of Canadian pop music, see "Satellite," a junior high slow dance wherein Kroeger brays, "I can't believe the days turn into years/ I hate to see the moments disappear." Whereas "She Keeps Me Up" sounds improbably like Franz Ferdinand and is about, well, fucking.
Now, this isn't going to pacify those of you standing outside Nickelback's next arena show with torches, but it behooves us to acknowledge a few things. Despite or maybe because of its me-Tarzan-you-Jane subtlety, "She Keeps Me Up" would absolutely be a hit for Maroon 5, which is not an endorsement of Adam Levine's troupe, but merely a comment on the song's structural integrity. No Fixed Address, like all Nickelback albums (there are now eight), contains a number of tunes ("What Are You Waiting For" being the exemplar here) about overcoming adversity, chasing your dreams, seizing the day, etc., all of which contain lyrics that would get a greeting-card writer fired, but none of which are any more (or less) insipid than your average Sia song and/or the advertising slogans of most sports drinks.
As far as the claim that they have no musical talent: C'mon. If Chad Kroeger were born in Nashville and added songs about trucks to his repertoire of drug and sex odes, we'd call him Eric Church and write think pieces about his subversion of the country music paradigm. (Editor's note: It was really more of a profile.) Now, maybe you don't like simple riffs and major chords and lyrics that read like a Penthouse Forum submission, but then you, my friend, are in the minority, and that is certainly not Nickelback's fault.
Believe it or not, I'm not trying to write an apology for Nickelback's oeuvre. My intent here is simply to convince you, the hater, that if you're going to spend all this time and energy hating them, then you really ought to be spreading the hate around. I think the reason you hate Nickelback—the reason I've hated Nickelback in the past—is that you hate being reminded of what a shallow, insipid, knuckle-headed culture we live in, one where a band this brazenly coarse and unsophisticated can exemplify what it means to succeed in popular music. But they are merely one of many content-providers who reflect this fact. Where are the petitions for Katy Perry and Imagine Dragons? Why do the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are every bit the self-plagiarizers Chad and his bros are, get a pass? You're telling me that in a world of Kardashian butt memes and Blake Shelton Pizza Hut ads and Calvin Harris bank statements, that we're all going to get up in arms about these guys? That makes about as much sense as, well, a Nickelback song.