January 29, 2014

BLANK| A Nickelback and a Dollar Short

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I am going to risk my music cred in my first column by admitting that I own nearly every Nickelback album. Like many music fans, this deviation into intensely uncool music started as a teen.

I bought 2005’s All the Right Reasons the week it was released, and even at a time when I thought that Three Days Grace was emotionally measured and that Sum 41’s poop jokes were funny, I realized that the album was bad. But, the hit parade began and Nickelback earned their only number one album in the United States, and I became infatuated with the backlash that began to dovetail into the conventional wisdom so vehemently associated with the band today. So, I decided to give honest listens to the band’s back catalogue and keep updated on the group as they progressed, trying to parse out a unique cultural cache that few other artists have achieved in modern times.

Late last year, Nickelback quietly released their first best-of compilation, commemorating nearly twenty years of playing music and five platinum albums in the States. Whether the band or Roadrunner Records realizes it, the album does an excellent job of summarizing the band as a phenomenon and the impact they have had on the music industry. In my mind, best-of albums are meant to introduce people to an artist while also hinting at moments of overlooked depth. As a piece to love or a piece to hate, The Best of Nickelback Volume I does this in spades. It exemplifies how Nickelback became the biggest rock band of the 2000’s as well as showing a side of them that the naysayers from the peanut gallery may have pridefully overlooked.

The Best of Nickelback begins with “Photograph,” the song that will no doubt stand as the band’s biggest musical footprint, more so than “How You Remind Me,” which directly follows it. Nobody will admit to enjoying the song, but everyone can recite its first four lines by heart. The heavy-handed metaphor is awkward, but the song’s specificity imprints itself into your brain as well as any actually thought-out lyricism might. Though we never learn what the hell is on his head, we have all met someone like the Joey that lead singer Chad Kroeger describes. This is classic Nickelback circa All the Right Reasons, with material that we can remember as vividly as some of our actual favorite songs, and that has spawned countless inconsequential imitators.

The compilation makes a smart choice in drawing most of its material from the time period between 2005’s All the Right Reasons and 2008’s Dark Horse. If All the Right Reasons was the band realizing their true, awful potential, Dark Horse is the group doubling down on it, making for the most humorous and self-referential album of their career. This makes for even more bald-faced attempts at machismo and romance (“Something in Your Mouth” and “If Today Was Your Last Day” respectively), but it also results in the band’s best song, “Burn It to the Ground,” listed as the fourth track on The Best of Nickelback. If I played you the song’s first twenty seconds without telling you who made it, you might think its jaunty riff was by legitimately great hard rock bands like Clutch or late-career Motorhead. Its chorus of crowd chants and Kroeger’s rarely used higher register shoots for the rafters and actually reach them — for perhaps the only time, Nickelback’s music is fun on its own terms.

The compilation also wisely ignores the band’s two bland pre-2000’s albums and their most recent and least inspired release, 2011’s Here and Now. Instead, we get some of the more noteworthy deep cuts from Dark Horse like “This Afternoon,” which has the instantly classic opening lyric, “Lookin’ like another Bob Marley day,” and the midtempo highlights of 2003’s The Long Road, the only album in Nickelback’s discography I could tell you with a straight face is actually pretty decent.

The entire compilation is paced rather well, with the ubiquitous singles front-loaded, the slower tunes filling out the center and the fun lesser-known tracks ending things on a lively note. It’s the retrospective document that a band like Nickelback deserves, and for this reason, The Best of Nickelback may be one of the most important rock records of the decade. Give it a listen and you will discover why music with guitars has been all but maligned in the pop music landscape this decade. And if you are too proud to give it a chance, the band may just have had the last laugh.