Judging by their reputation, Nickelback sit somewhere between bankers and child molesters on the sliding scale of villainy. No contemporary rock band provokes as much vitriol as this bluest of blue-collar outfits.
Just ask the people of Detroit, who recently worked up a petition to ban the Canadian band from playing a half-time set at a recent American football match in the city (it didn’t work). Or the geeks who created a device to keep your browser from showing any Nickelback-related comments. Or the pained-looking cat on YouTube that puts its paws over its ears to shut out the sound of the band.
So when singer Chad Kroeger says: “I’m just some guy who sings in a rock’n’roll band – I’m not Hitler”, you almost feel sorry for him. He’s got a point. Since they first planted their size 10s in the charts with How You Remind Me (shameless post-grunge angst yoked to shark-like ambition, yet a truly great song), they’ve spent a decade-plus dodging an endless barrage of shitballs hurled their way.
In truth, it’s so long since Nickelback-hating became a sport that it’s difficult to remember why it started, let alone why it’s carried on while every other band who sold a gazillion records at the start of the noughties has fallen by the wayside. Is it because they’re the eleventh-biggest-selling band of the century? Is it because their singer has a face like a shaved horse? Is it because they’re Canadian? Well, no, it’s none of the above.
As their seventh album only confirms, it’s because they’re a heartless, soulless, witless, empty-calorie-super-sized-shit-flavoured-big-bucket of a stadium rock band. Here And Now isn’t the worst album you’ll hear this year – not quite, anway – but it’s by the far the hollowest. Credit where it’s due, Nickelback have the whole flattering-to-deceive thing sewn up.
Opener This Means War stomps into the room like Billy Big Bollocks, waving its gigantic gonads around and shouting: “We sell considerably more records than you!” at the top of its voice. But get past its admittedly impressive machine-tooled riff and you’re left with a soullessly synthetic recreation of rock’n’roll that’s so resolutely unmemorable that you find yourself wondering whether you’ve developed early-onset Alzheimer’s when you realise you’ve forgotten how it goes approximately six-and-a-half seconds after it’s finished.
In the past, Kroeger has said he grew up playing Metallica riffs in his bedroom. But the likes of the mind-bogglingly ham-fisted Midnight Queen – ‘She’s gonna lick my pistol clean’ – suggest it’s Nickelback, not Steel Panther, who are the natural heirs to Mötley Crüe’s cock-rock crown.There’s nothing wrong with stupidity, but it sure as shit shouldn’t sound like such an excruciatingly joyless experience.
Mind you, even that sounds like King Crimson next to the truly grisly, semi-acoustic bilge of When We Stand Together, in which Kroeger has an attack of conscience. ‘We can feed a starving world with what we throw away,’ he sings, presumably just before heading to the bar to knock back drinks and get his pistol licked clean by some passing strumpet.
Of course, what the hell does Chad Kroeger care what anybody says about him or his music anyway? Nickelback are the ultimate fans’ band, and as such they’re virtually bulletproof. Their legion of followers helped propel Here And Now to No. 2 in the US chart when it was released there at the end of last year. And even if it does hurt, he can wipe away his tears with crisp £10,000 notes as he cries his way to the bank.
As the music industry falls around their ears, Nickelback remain the last men standing, and Here And Now is the ultimate victory of commerce over art. They’ve worked for their success and they know their audience inside out, and you have to applaud them for that. But if they’re really the best that rock’n’roll can do in 2012, then we’re all fucked.