Nickelback is one of the longest-running punch lines in the music industry and with good reason. For almost two decades, the Canadian outfit have produced lazy, generic rock ‘n’ roll that’s been pasteurized for mainstream consumption. To date, they’ve managed to sell over 50 million albums and, sadly, remain one of the best-selling acts worldwide. But here’s the thing: Take a mental lap around the pop universe, and it’s quite evident that there are many other icons with similarly ridiculous resumes.
Now, we’re not claiming moral high ground. (After all, Nickleback remains this writer’s personal go-to for universally accepted crappy music.) Yet, in light of their eighth studio album, No Fixed Address, we decided to give Chad Kroeger & co. a fair shake by revisiting their back catalogue and pulling not one, not two, not four, but five songs that aren’t exactly awful. Blame it on a bizarre strain of the flu or the charitable season up ahead, but alas, here are Nickelback’s strongest compositions to date.
The State (1999)
Whereas songs like “Rockstar” flaunt their volume in an effort to show you how much they rock, “Breathe” just rocks without ever having to think too much about it. Chalk it up to the absence of the start-and-stop butt chords that would plague the band’s later hits. In their place is a steady, almost post-punk chug that keeps the cock-rock to a minimum. Even better, the lyrics have a dash of introspection, examining how we start to envy others as we get older. It’s not the most profound observation in the world, but it’s at least tasteful and free of misogyny (I think). You can see how, in 1999, Nickelback were often confused with Bush, which is way better than getting confused with Nickelback. –Dan Caffrey
“Good Times Gone”
Silver Side Up (2001)
“Good Times Gone” is a fairly dynamic song, at least by Nickelback’s standards, that begins in typical rock ballad fashion until the band finds a nice blues-based groove for the verse. Drawing from their familiar post-grunge pockets, the song avoids the distorted pop-metal guitar tones by turning down the decibels and opting, instead, for a little slide guitar that’s actually quite tolerable. Kroeger’s serviceable lyrics, with allusions to cornfields, comic books, and tractors, are hardly offensive either, and when paired to the aforementioned “pleasantries,” the giggles at the end feel well-earned. –Kevin McMahon
“Leader of Men”
The State (1999)
Ironically, Kroeger starts and ends “Leader of Men” by singing, “It’s so hard to swallow,” when, in fact, the song happens to be one of Nickelback’s more palatable works. By utilizing a slower tempo, Kroeger avoids his infamous fork-stuck-in-the-garbage-disposal vocals that irritate most listeners, and what’s more, he actually tells a vivid story about how he jumped off a cliff to save a girl in the water. Supposedly, he’s relaying his random thoughts while on shrooms, but regardless, the odd lyrics make for a rare intriguing listen in the band’s repertoire. Most importantly, though, the track offers a lovely dose of nostalgia for the band’s old-school fans who have since been shamed by the Internet into hating something they once loved. –Danielle Janota
All the Right Reasons (2005)
The year was 2008. It was my first year at my second college (a long story that doesn’t involve you). Nickelback’s “Animals” had been out three years, but I had successfully managed to avoid contact with the band since my junior year of high school until one faithful nighttime drive to a party. Tim Kropa was driving, the radio was on hard rock, and an instantly catchy guitar riff came on. Minutes went by, and I found myself head banging to the simple cock-rock lyrics of “We’re never gonna quit/ Ain’t nothing wrong with it/ Just acting like we’re animals.” I asked Kropa, “Who was that? I liked that song.” “Nickelback,” he replied. So now there’s one song I have to admit to kind-of-liking. Ain’t nothing wrong with it. –Dan Bogosian
All the Right Reasons (2005)
Real talk: “Far Away” was a ubiquitous Top 40 radio staple in 2006, and due to the severely limited airwave options in my rural Michigan town, and the limited battery life of my iPod, this song soundtracked a major heartbreak during my junior year of high school. I still know all of the (admittedly pretty simple) lyrics, a fact I was horrified to discover while doing research for this piece. However, I stand by my assertion that “Far Away” is actually not terrible. Its message is an incredibly sweet one of redemption and forgiveness, and it’s been described by Kroeger as the “only real love song” that Nickelback has ever written.
“Keep breathing, hold on to me and never let me go” – that line was candy to a lovelorn 17-year-old. The wording is pretty generic and universal throughout, sure, but I dare you not to feel something during that final-verse key change, or to not get the anthemic refrain of “I love you, I’ve loved you all along” stuck in your head, itching for repeat listens. The next time you’re feeling wistful about the one that got away, pull this sucker up on Spotify. I swear on my very first iPod that it will work wonders. –Katherine Flynn