Defending Nickelback: They’re not that bad, are they?
The latest is that some Detroit Lions fan started an online petition to prevent the band from playing the halftime show at the Nov. 24 Thanksgiving Day game. It reportedly attracted nearly 40,000 signatures. Didn’t work, of course. Online petitions aren’t worth the paper they aren’t printed on. Nickelback played the gig, drawing a reported “smattering of boos.”
They’re not that bad, are they?
“I like your pants around your feet,
“I like the dirt that’s on your knees,
“And I like the way you still say please,
“While you’re looking up at me,
“You’re like my favourite damn disease.”
OK, they’re that bad. But only in short bursts. Embarrassing, but forgivable. Most of the time, Nickelback is all about good dumb fun: sturdy, easily-singable rock anthems about getting high and drinking beer around the fire at the cabin at the lake. Good times. Lots of local hosers can relate. Now can we stop with the Nickelback Backlash? For one thing, it’s old. Canadians did this already years ago. They’re the Canadian Bon Jovi, which is an insult to Bon Jovi. Whatever. For another thing, stories like this – which is just a story about a story about a story that’s been spreading through the media lately because it must be a slow news day – only play into their hands. Nickelback has a new album coming out on Nov. 21. It’s called “Here and Now.” They could use the publicity. Any press is good press, right?
Barely a week goes by that our poor Alberta rockers aren’t named the Worst Band in the Entire Universe in another damned poll. The bored mainstream media also reported that a dating website called Tastebuds.fm that matches people based of musical tastes voted Nickelback as the No. 1 musical turn-off. Now I’m starting to feel sorry for them. Perhaps the time has come to rally behind our wayward sons, to support them in their darkest hour of the depths of the worst rock ‘n’ roll backlash this side of the Monkees. After all, they are from Alberta. We should at least defend them from the insults from a bunch of American football bullies and smartass rock critics who wouldn’t know a good Alberta bush party if it burned them in the ass.
I release I risk being drummed out of the Sacred Rock Critics Club for defending Nickelback, but we go back a long way, me and Nickelback. I was a full-time music writer for the Edmonton Sun when they first showed up – with graft! One day, a letter arrived, inside of which was a homemade flyer with a shiny Canadian nickel taped to it and the headline: “Here is your Nickel Back.” I shit you not. I peeled off the coin and threw the letter straight into the trash. I wish I’d kept it.
The band played several Edmonton nightclubs after that, including whatever the Starlite Room used to be called, earning a buzz for its catchy, straight-ahead brand of radio-friendly rock ‘n’ roll. Many local fans proudly laid claim to the band, which Nickelback did little to dissuade, despite actually being from Hanna, Alberta and moving to Vancouver as soon as could possibly be arranged. The worst thing people could say about Nickelback at the time is that they sounded like Creed, which in turn sounded like Pearl Jam. No big deal.
I interviewed Kroeger several times. One of the most memorable chats was where he stated flat out that “I KNOW what it takes to make a hit song.” Sure, pal. Heard it before, good luck with that.
Of course he was right. Kroeger had indeed discovered the magic formula of appealing to the masses, and by the sound of it, has stuck to it to this day.
They seemed like nice guys, very generous, very accommodating. Just as they were starting to break, at the 2001 Stage 13 concert in Camrose, they invited a couple of media people, including myself, to stand side stage while they performed. It of course was an amazing thrill getting the rock star’s eye view of 10,000 Nickelback fans losing their minds. The band had just scored its massive breakthrough hit How You Remind Me and the buzz had turned into a roar.
I wrote nice things about them. I admit it. I was trying to ignore the nagging feeling that I was breaking the cardinal rule of rock criticism set by the famous rock critic Lester Bangs, as recreated in the film Almost Famous, in that one should never make friends with the rock stars. Unless you want to make big money as a publicist. Ha! I’ll be a whore for free!
I knew I had crossed the line when I accepted a free trip to Vancouver to meet with Nickelback in their studio as they recorded what would become The Long Road. The only music-making going on that particular day was an engineer fiddling around with a two-second drum part on his Pro-Tools program. Even in 2003, it was possible to correct any flaw and polish any wart with the magic of computers. The modern recording process is as interesting as watching paint dry.
But this seemed to be an off-day anyway. Guitar Magazine or some such thing was doing a photo shoot, the studio was out of commission, and band members didn’t have anything better to do, so I got exclusive access to all of them for at least three hours. One of the most memorable things Kroeger said was about the craft of songwriting, and how long it took him to accept the input of other musicians: “I used to view songwriting as masturbation. You don’t really want anybody watching.”
He was joking. But then the misogynist, groupie-bashing anthem Figured You Out came out shortly thereafter (lyrics quoted above). It was the second single from The Long Road, whose Kroegeridian formula was in full throttle. At this point, I felt it would be best to go with the critics’ pack and bash Nickelback at will, to do my best to make their very name a keyword for suckiness, to introduce the adjective “Nickelbackian” to the rock lexicon. Well, they deserved it. But I still felt like a backstabber.
No more! The time has come to bury the hatchet, to forgive – and hopefully forget – all of the band’s most stupid, sexist, ridiculously meatheaded rock songs that all sound the same. There’s a new album coming out, a fresh page in the long book that is Nickelback. Likewise let us try to turn the other cheek to their absurd success and not judge the unwashed masses of Nickelback fans for having bad taste. These are our brothers! You can’t pick your family – and you can’t pick your hometown rock bands, either. So don’t mess with Nickelback, Detroit Lions fans. That’s our job.
Here’s one of the new singles. Judge for yourself: