Shut up, Nickelback are actually great
An impassioned defence of the most unfairly maligned band in musical history
We’ve all got that mate. The one who discovered Bansky a little too late and treated it like he’d found a new religion, promptly prescribing to the kind of schoolyard political thought most of us left behind with our tea-towel scarves. He’s got a lot to tell you about jet fuel and steel beams. He probably thinks The Matrix is real, or at least, could be. And he definitely, undoubtedly, has some really strong negative opinions about Nickelback.
Of all the whipping boys in all the world, Nickelback are surely the most lashed. Bombarded with hateful petitions and endless taunts about everything from their music to the haircuts they had a decade ago. Even your grandad probably knows that, were they to appear on The One Show this evening, he probably ought to call them wankers down the pub tomorrow. The police got involved last year - not to defend them, but to give them yet another kicking - threatening to force drink drivers to listen to Nickelback on their ride to the station. Protect and serve indeed.
It’s a bombardment which Chad Kroeger and his bandmates have handled with aplomb. For near two decades, they’ve been popular music’s punchbag, taking each swing with a smile on their face. They’ve appeared in Funny Or Die sketches lampooning themselves, and offered an olive branch to The Chainsmokers in more recent months, telling the EDM hate-figures, “You can’t please everyone, guys - welcome to the club,” before mashing up their breakthrough hit ‘How You Remind Me’ (a karaoke classic to this day) with The Chainsmokers’ own ‘Closer’, unwittingly creating a turbo-banger in the process. No wonder Father John Misty would "ride for Nickelback" - they're every bit as knowingly daft as he is, just with more distortion. Steadily climbing ever-higher, straight past the haters all the while, they’ve become the 11th best-selling band of all time, while the snivelling critics of the world still struggle to piece together a valid reason for their scorn.
A recent Reddit thread on /r/Nickelback, posed that simple question: why? Why is it that Nickelback attract so much hate, when there’s ostensibly so little to induce anger? When they’ve never lashed out or rocked the boat? When Muse exist? The results were as varied as they were uncertain, based on hearsay and conjecture.
It’s Reddit user SMBaller who hammers home the point best though. Back in that Reddit thread, which should be required reading on all primary school syllabuses henceforth, they state the main reason for Nickelback’s whipping boy status as, “because it was 'cool' to hate Nickelback. When their songs exploded and became popular, people wanted to be those who are like "oh Nickelback? Yeah, total sellouts. I only listen to progressive alternative melodic Norwegian folk pop."
“I love Nickelback, I've had a lot of people seem shocked and ask why,” Baller continues. “I tell them they're a good band with catchy songs and a lot of killer heavier songs. Then you follow that up with asking them what they've heard, to which they reply "Rockstar". If you're going to hate a band, at least listen to more than one song by them. Every band has more radio-friendly songs, you can't just judge them on that.”
It’s impossible to argue. While the radio-bothering iceberg-tip of Nickelback’s discography might rip hard (‘Rockstar’ excluded, even I’m not putting my neck on the line for that one), dig deeper and you’ll find a whole new world. ‘Just To Get High’ from 2008’s Dark Horse is a slinky, sultry noir epic at the heart of an album that offers up ten shades of black-hearted rock royalty, while sadly long-forgotten debut album Curb occupies a middle ground between Incubus’ beachcombing aesthetic and the midnight mopery of the pinnacle of 90s grunge. Back in the almost-present-day, the tongue-in-cheek video for ‘She Keeps Me Up’ might’ve got some stick, but you can bet if the funk-laced bop had come with a Pharrell co-write, it would have been heralded as a second coming.
Special mention needs to go to ‘Gotta Be Somebody’, Nickelback’s finest hour. A soaring ode to love finding a way, it’s songwriting at its zenith; hard rock’s golden heart, too often eclipsed by ‘that one off Spiderman’ as the Nickelback ballad of choice. It’s the warm embrace we so often need in our darkest moments, and I defy you not to feel like you could punch straight through the sun after just one listen.
Elsewhere, ‘Feed The Machine’ - the politically woke title-track of their actually-much-better-than-any-band’s-ninth-(!)-studio-album-has-any-right-to-be new record - is a revelation. Pairing a festival-ready earworm chorus to a chug-happy guitar line, it’s alt-rock perfection that deserves to soundtrack barbecues and brawls in equal measure - the kind of song that modern metal scene kings Of Mice & Men would likely give their right arm for. On ‘Coin For The Ferryman’, from that same record, they let loose a knuckle-twisting guitar riff and some gloriously lung-raking vocals from Kroeger. When held up to last year’s lacklustre return from heavy metal’s supposed kings, it’s evidence that, these days, Nickelback do Metallica better than Metallica do Metallica.
Breathe easy, there, my mosh-loving snowflake
So if they can clearly pen a tune or twenty, why all the upturned noses? Backing up the man on the ground (that’s me and /r/Nickelback, by the way), academia’s got the answer. In a 2016 study of Nickelback’s coverage in the music media, PhD student Salli Anttonen found possibly the most revealing message of all. “Hating on Nickelback,” Anttonen reports, “became a phenomenon whereby journalists were using the same [reasons] to bash them, and almost making an art out of ridiculing them.” She goes on to explain, damningly, that “by nullifying Nickelback’s authenticity, critics are actually authenticating themselves.”
Once again, then, it’s the nerds that’ve debunked the mystery: slagging Nickelback has nothing to do with Nickelback themselves, it’s just a self-congratulatory back-patting exercise; a smarter-than-thou circle-jerk. The proverbial Bansky t-shirt, to prove just how many things you know about stuff, it’s as tired as your mate’s latest conspiracy theory on how the government (get this!) is actually Bad. We can do better. Stand up to self-aggrandising, and embrace the glory of some of rock’s most soul-enriching choruses and grin-inducing riffs. This summer, don’t be afraid to get The ‘Back out.