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Keeping neo-grunge alive and kicking beyond its post-millennium sell-by-date, Canada’s contemporary metal act, NICKELBACK, certainly had their fair share of non-believers from outside their North American beat. But with a string of Grammys, Junos and some radio-friendly hits (including global No.1 smash, `How You Remind Me’), their proud nation’s answer to CREED, STONE TEMPLE PILOTS and ALICE IN CHAINS, could hold their hairy heads high. Formed 1995 in Hanna, Calgary, frontman/lead guitarist Chad Kroeger went from playing in a covers band (The Village Idiots) to writing original material, which, in turn, led to him cutting a solo demo tape in Vancouver. Incidentally, their name was chosen when Chad’s brother, Starbucks cashier Mike Kroeger, was famous for saying to customers: “here’s your nickel back” – there’s no truth in the rumour that they might’ve called themselves “Have A Nice Day”.
With $4,000 borrowed from his step-father, Chad invited his brothers Mike (bass) and Brandon (drums), plus a close friend Ryan Peake (rhythm guitar) to play in the band and, after a short time rehearsing, the group recorded and independently-issued the `Hersher’ EP; managing also to raise enough cash to fund a cross-country “toilet tour” across Canada before releasing their debut set CURB (1996) {*6}. In honour of a friend, Curby, who died in a car crash with his girlfriend, their sound was typical of the time: growling vox, speedy guitars and pounding rhythms; choking Chad probably coming across like a poor man’s SCOTT WEILAND, CHRIS CORNELL or EDDIE VEDDER.
A year or two in and the cracks were beginning to show. Squabbling and disagreeing with their management, Chad decided that it would be best if the group looked after themselves, thus adding pressure for the other members whose job it was to distribute and advertise their debut long-player; Brandon was first to bail (c. 1997), his berth taken at first by Mitch Guindon and, on a more permanent basis, in 1998, by Ryan Vikedal. In the meantime, Chad came up with an ingenious way of creating airplay for themselves by allegedly getting friends and family members to phone up radio stations and request their songs. Impressed after listening to their debut set, Ron Burman (Roadrunner’s A&R man), took off from West Coast America to Vancouver, returning with a determination to set up a deal between E.M.I. Canada and said Roadrunner.
By this time NICKELBACK had quite a cult following throughout North America. Having independently produced and distributed THE STATE (1998) {*5}, their sophomore album which held the group’s hard-edged rock ethos intact but lacked the punch of their debut, it was officially released in Canada the following September. The set proved to be highly successful, with a sell-out tour and a growing popularity, the group soon found themselves playing for larger audiences, supporting the likes of CREED and FUEL. Not surprisingly, with US Modern/Main Rock hits such as `Leader Of Men’, `Old Enough’ and `Breathe’, the album was bought by various companies for major distribution all over the globe; America and Britain finally issuing the record in March 2000 and May 2001 respectively.
Not a typical signing for Roadrunner (whose metal reputation was second-to-none), third album SILVER SIDE UP (2001) {*6}, paid big platinum dividends, no doubt down to gargantuan smash, `How You Remind Me’, a post-NIRVANA-esque rock-out, with big riffs and an even bigger chorus. Along with further hit, `Too Bad’, the PEARL JAM-esque `Good Times Gone’, and others of that post-grunge ilk, the album put NICKELBACK on the musical map; the aforementioned smash being officially claimed as “the most played song on American radio”. The single topped the charts in both America and Canada at the same time, a feat not accomplished since The GUESS WHO’s “American Woman” (me thinks?). Whether people would still be listening to rip-off merchants NICKELBACK in years to come mattered not to a band happy to take listeners back a decade when grunge was king. 2002 brought another sizeable hit in `Hero, a Chad Kroeger-billed solo duet with SALIVA frontman Josey Scott, which had previously appeared on the soundtrack to the first Spider-Man movie.
THE LONG ROAD (2003) {*5} was another constipated collection of meat and potatoes hard rock, with just enough tortuous whining to have it labelled alternative. Grunge might’ve long gone but bands like NICKELBACK were still hanging around, propagating a sound that approximated to a decade’s worth of bad beard days. Nevertheless, the transatlantic Top 10 album bolstered some clean-cut, streamlined grunge-by-numbers via several cuts, including hits `Someday’ and `Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good’. While corporate rock was always in the hands of American music moguls content with the same-old/same-old, Chad and Co played it safe and left others to experiment and fall by the wayside. Meanwhile, Daniel Adair (from 3 DOORS DOWN) superseded Vikedal.
And yes, Chad was still hawking up a hernia on ALL THE RIGHT REASONS (2005) {*4}; and Americans were still buying into it in mystifying quantities – enough to see it become their first No.1 album (UK Top 20). Dewy-eyed power-ballad, `Photograph’, found the main man ruminating on his high school days, memories apparently interesting enough to make No.2 (UK Top 30). Subsequent singles stalled much further down the listings, with only `Far Away’ cracking the UK Top 40, while the set’s most noble track (`Side Of A Bullet’) was their lament to the recently murdered Dimebag Darrell (of DAMAGE). Re-generated by a second stab at the charts by way of Nashville-metal dirge, `Rockstar’, which went Top 10 on both sides of the Big Pond as late as November ’07, “All The ….. Reasons” rocketed back up into the Top 3.
Their timing to a tee, album number six, the Mutt Lange-produced DARK HORSE (2008) {*3}, was another record for Chad to exercise his common-ground catharsis. He pleads with his listener, while his band pump out muscular dirges by the dozen – or eleven in this case. While one could cry for different reasons to `Never Gonna Be Alone’ and big-hitter `Gotta Be Somebody’, one could only hope that `If Today Was Your Last Day’ was prophetic in its title.
Room for improvement – yes! 2011’s HERE AND NOW {*5} broke some fresh ground, and although Chad’s grating growl shook as well as shimmied (one could almost forgive him for trying to try for MOR via foot-tapping anthem, `When We Stand Together’), the Top 10 record signified that power-balladeers NICKELBACK might be in line for a change in direction.
Switching labels from Roadrunner to Republic Records, the quartet dabbled in AOR for album eight, NO FIXED ADDRESS (2014) {*3}. A potpourri of syrupy cuts from the One Direction-like `What Are You Waiting For?’, the double-entendre `She Keeps Me Up’ (very QUEEN) to the hip hop-infused, FLO RIDA-backed `Got Me Runnin’ Round’, etc, etc, Kroeger and Co seemed to be caught between a rock and soft place. But for the sole, political fist-pumper, `Edge Of A Revolution’ (or opener `Million Miles An Hour’), NICKELBACK would’ve been going further back – back alongside the CD Frisbees clogging up yer local bargain bins.
Moving along the corporate ladder once again; this time to BMG, the Chris Baseford co-produced album, FEED THE MACHINE (2017) {*6}, was yet another transatlantic Top 5 record for NICKELBACK that irked the critics, though not their legion of devoted/deluded (delete as appropriate) disciples. Harder and heavier in certain places (example the title track, `Coin For The Ferryman’, `For The River’ and the nursery rhymin’ rock-rap `Must Be Nice’), Chad’s softer side was better addressed for `Song On Fire’ and the lilting instrumental, `The Betrayal (Act I)’.
© MC Strong 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Jun2017

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