Nickelback’s last album (2005’s All The Right Reasons) sold eight million copies, an extremely impressive figure in this day and age...even for four years ago. For me (and I would imagine a healthy percentage of those album buyers) they’re a guilty pleasure. They write some great, heavy melodic tunes with a specialty in providing continuing fuel to the Bic lighter that represents the ongoing tradition of the power ballad. Actually, lighters these days at concerts are almost obsolete. Switch that fuel part to a battery recharger and the metaphorical lighter to a cell phone. Not as eloquent, I grant you, but more timely.
Anyway, so where does the guilt part factor in then? That’d be the lyrics. I’ve heard things come out of lead vocalist Chad Kroeger’s mouth over the course of Nickelback’s career that I couldn’t believe I was hearing. I mean things that range from creepy to disgusting to downright sociopathological. Example 1 (from All The Right Reasons’ “Follow You Home”): Well you can stick me in a hole/And you can pray all day for rain/You can shoot me in the leg/Just to try to make me beg/And you can leave me there for days/And I’ll stay alive/Just to follow you home. Example 2 (from “Next Contestant” from the same album): Is that your hand on my girlfriend?/Is that your hand?/I wish you’d do it again/I’ll watch you leave here limping/I wish you’d do it again/There goes the next contestant. Now, I’m all for defending the honour of your woman but there’s such an air of testosterone-fuelled meatheadedness throughout this song (and plenty of other Nickelback songs) that it’s impossible not to cringe. And that’s just two examples among many…I never even mentioned the one that features lines about “dirt on your knees” and the “white stains on your dress”. Subtle, Chad…very subtle. Perhaps the most succinct and amusing (albeit in obviously very bad taste) critical rebuke I’ve read about the group came from Toronto uber-trendy arts weekly publication Now, which labeled Dark Horse as a soundtrack for date rapists.
Of course, Nickelback have hardly ever aspired to be critical darlings or artistes. They’re all about good ‘ol boy rawk, with a sensitive side for the ladies and a hint of social awareness that I must admit I’ve always found somewhat insincere and almost obligatory, as if they were straining to add another layer of depth and dimension to what constitutes a unit that has so far been only coming at us in full 2-D.
The album starts with a pretty kickass groove on “Something In Your Mouth”, but here we are, back at the lyrics issue. It’d be redundant to inform you that the song title is a play on words. Some of the other sex-fuelled high energy tunes that tread the same ground are “Next Go Round” and, appropriately, “S.E.X.”. From the former, here’s a selection of the fine word craft being weaved by Mr. Kroeger: “I wanna go so long your parents think you died/They’re gonna call the cops, the CIA and then the FBI” and “I wanna cover you with Jell-O in the tub/We can roll around for hours without ever coming up/I want you naked with your favourite heels on/Start John Deere across my ass and ride me up and down the lawn”. And from the chorus to the latter: “S is for the simple need/E is for the ecstasy/X is just to mark the spot because that's the one you really want/Yes!/Sex is always the answer, it's never a question/Cause the answer's yes, oh the answers yes/Not just a suggestion, if you ask the question/Then it's always yes - yeah!”. I wish I was making this crap up.Despite my inability to look past the shameless lyrics I can’t say Dark Horse is a terrible album. As mentioned, it rocks pretty good in a number of places and there’s some excellent catchy songs with first single “Gotta Be Somebody” and the acoustic-driven second single “If Today Was Your Last Day”. The last track, “This Afternoon” is decent enough but feels like an obvious attempt to follow-up the mega-successful “Rock Star” from the previous album. And lest you consider me a prude that is above not being open to a song about doin’ it, let me state that I grew up on and still listen to plenty of 80’s hard rock, which buttered it’s bread with lyrics that specialized in that area. But that was a genre that emerged over 20 years ago and while songs about sex have been around since forever and will always be around there’s something about the sleazy style with which Nickelback chooses to cover that territory that, for me, holds them back from being a better band. And maybe it’s just me getting older and looking for a little more in what I choose to listen to. Regardless, somewhere in the world at whatever moment you’re reading this there is guaranteed to both be someone buying a Nickelback album and a stripper dancing to a Nickelback song so who am I to argue with success?