Review: Nickelback – No Fixed Address

20141001154751!No_Fixed_Address_Cover_-_Nickelback_AlbumIf you’re a self-proclaimed “rocker” between the ages of 13 and 60, you clicked on this article for one reason and one reason only: to read close to 1000 words of an angry, lippy, pseudo-“funny” rock critic exercising their ability to say the upcoming Nickelback LP No Fixed Address is terrible in as many creative ways as possible, as this is expectedly the only coverage that the band ever receives. For as world-famous and undeniably acclaimed as Nickelback is and has been, they receive positive coverage from very few music publications, with most big-name outlets simply using the band’s albums as verbal punching bags to attract angry defenders who will call the reviewers “uninformed” and “closed-minded”, while simultaneously attracting the smarmy rocker types that will shout profanities and ethnic slurs at Nickelback fans for listening to them over the “real rock” that’s in rotation on their local commercial rock radio station.

As I’ve sort of grown up with the band, had prolonged exposure to their inescapable smash hits that have dominated the mainstream airwaves for most of my life like “Someday”, “Savin’ Me”, “Photograph”, and of course, how can we forget, the near-impressively smug and self-aggrandizing “Rockstar”, I sometimes find it hard to pick a side. On one hand, I tend to find Nickelback’s songs individually to be too nondescript, safe and just altogether bland to get worked up about as much as other rock music listeners get, and other commercially successful rock bands like Buckcherry and Five Finger Death Punch have a far more aggressively awful sound, with far more particularly bad aspects to their music than Chad Kroeger and the gang. Not to mention no band on planet Earth could be as bad as people make this band out to be. On the other hand, though, Nickelback’s music as a whole is borderline insufferable because of its wholesale lack of substance and flavour. Nickelback isn’t awful in the same way that a group like brokeNCYDE is, where, yes, what you’re hearing may be an unfathomably bad disaster area, but it’s at least memorable and legend-making because of it. November 17th will mark the release of Nickelback’s eighth full-length LP No Fixed Address, and the band still hasn’t moved on from their formulaic, by-the-numbers “hard” rock that could only be considered headbanging material by people that get their faces melted by Hanson.

…is what I would be saying if No Fixed Address didn’t ultimately amount to Nickelback’s most stylistically diverse album yet. Those of you who are tuning in to this review or this album just expecting the same boring, lowest common denominator-pandering dreck that has been the band’s entire previous output, you are in for some pretty extreme whiplash with this one. While everything Nickelback ever released from 1996 to 2013 took one extremely uninteresting, uncreative, yet money-printing idea and ran with it, No Fixed Address is an exercise in the band putting forth every terrible idea they had after a brainstorm meeting that consisted solely of the band members drinking wine that costs more than you make in a year while boredly listening to one of those “whatever the hell we wanna play” radio stations in their bathroom they can play baseball in. It was for this reason, though, that I made it a point to go into No Fixed Address with an open, untainted-by-All the Right Reasons mind and give Nickelback a fair chance to redeem their 18-year streak of lukewarm mediocrity, something no other reviewer of this album will do. Unfortunately, the end result is a stillborn, malformed 11-track catastrophe that can’t decide what one band it wants to rip off, so it instead opts to just rip off a bevy of different bands, one per song.

As I was starting up No Fixed Address, I hit the play button to the opening track “Million Miles an Hour”, and waited patiently for the Disturbed song that played to be over, until the entire song passed, and I realised that that Disturbed song was actually the track Nickelback opens the LP with. Everything from the one low-pitched guitar lick the song rides throughout to the very phoned in and insincere anger that emanates from frontman Chad Kroeger to the brief and forgettable guitar solo over the bridge that’s immediately followed by a slow, quiet refrain, is just unashamed 2005-era Disturbed worship. I’ll let that sink in for a moment… Yes, Disturbed worship. I will admit, though, this track is one of the more listenable ones on the LP, with a genuinely solid main riff that, while far from original or groundbreaking, rocks a pretty good groove. It’s no Franz Ferdinand or anything, but it at least works, which is the best you can expect from this album.

Now, if you’ll allow me to be contrarian for a moment, I feel strongly compelled to defend the lead single to drop from this LP “Edge of a Revolution”. Not because it’s good, because it definitely is not – it’s pretty much every made-for-radio hard rock single you heard released between 2008 and 2012, and absolutely gyps the chorus from the already execrable “Porn Star Dancing” by My Darkest Days, not to mention Chad Kroeger completely changes the sound and inflection in his voice on this track in an attempt to sound exactly like Aaron Lewis or Sully Erna (for what reason one would want to, I have no idea) – but I have to call bullshit on the rock fans that are laughing at this single for being “Nickelback’s attempt at an edgy, us-against-the-world arena hard rock song”, but will turn around and praise the equally vapid and wallpaper bands that Nickelback majorly rips off that perpetuate the style’s current innocuous and straight boring sound; the likes of Halestorm, Pop Evil, Shinedown, Adrenaline Mob, and the like. If this song were performed exactly how it is, horrible gang-shouted bridge and all, by any other hard rock band that is getting ample time on commercial rock radio, people would be praising it to the moon for its “daring and bracing call for change”. As a Nickelback single, though, it’s a punchline.

However, any forgiveness I may have for Nickelback’s mocked attempt at “fighting the man” is yanked away as if it were on a choke-chain the instant tracks like “What Are You Waiting For” come creeping in, because this is where the album starts to get uncomfortable, as this is, for all intents and purposes, Nickelback’s pop song. Now, it’s important to factor in that up until this point, despite what you or I may think of their music, Nickelback has been a rock band. Not a pop-rock band, not a power pop band, a rock band. While the chorus of this song just feels like Nickelback as their flavourless usual with an effectual guitar lead and sturdy drum beat behind Kroeger’s trademark groans, the verses of this song could easily be handed off to Pharrell or Justin Timberlake and feel right at home, featuring a lifeless drum beat that could’ve easily come from a drum machine, and little else outside of a background synthesizer that feels out of place as ever, and nothing in the way of a guitar or bass to speak of. Plus all the vocal layering and effects that are all over the latter half of this track; if this song doesn’t make you wretch, then you’re a stronger person than I, my friend.

From there, Nickelback continues to head in every single direction besides the one that got them where they are now (well, except for the track “Believe”), which is at least admirable, I guess. “She Keeps Me Up” is the band’s attempt at a postmodern funky dance-rock track, like something you might see being put out on DFA Records or something. It isn’t a bad concept for a song by any means, but it’s hampered by really underwhelming performances from the band; the main riff, which goes for funky and loose, ultimately comes off as really tacky and highly repetitive, while the drum beat doesn’t do much in the way of pumping the song up. “Satellite”, meanwhile, sounds all for the world like Nickelback stole an unreleased song from The Script and decided to just leave it untouched. “Miss You” is a pitiful attempt at a sweet, mid-tempo love song like you might see from Matchbox Twenty, but the track becomes unbearable when reading deeper into Nickelback’s still amateur sloppy lyrics.

For most of this album I just felt like Nickelback had made the decision to explore new ways to piss off rock fans, and not a single track on here even had a shade of that interesting-bad quality that will usually endear me to a track in a so-bad-it’s-entertaining kind of way. Then I got to the track “Got Me Runnin’ Round”, and No Fixed Address suddenly went from being simply bad to absolutely intolerable. The track starts out inconspicuously enough, with a twinkling mallet percussion section quickly followed by a repeated guitar riff that sounds like 1997 Deftones with happier childhoods. Lyrically, this song is about someone that Chad Kroeger is infatuated with, that, whenever he sees or thinks of this person, they’ve “got him runnin’ round”, as it were. The chorus on this song sounds like a horrible bar rock band trying their hand at a radio rock smash from the 1970s, but within the imitative context of the LP, it didn’t really strike me as that out of place.

…and then Flo Rida showed up.

No, you did not read that wrong. This song actually has a fully-featured guest verse from rapper Flo Rida. When I first heard this song, knowing absolutely nothing about any songs on this album, I thought that Flo Rida’s vocal contribution was just going to be like a small sample of one of his original songs placed in the song to offer up a bit of diversity, like the stunningly out-of-place Miley Cyrus vocal sample towards the end of alt-J’s “Hunger of the Pine”, or that one Tech N9ne song that makes heavy use of vocal samples of Jim Morrison’s singing in The Doors all throughout, but no, this is a fully original 30-second guest verse from Flo Rida. Hell, the backing instrumentation even changes to accommodate the fact that the track inadvertently becomes a hip-hop song periodically by turning into what sounds like a demo-quality instrumental hip-hop remix of “Got Me Runnin’ Round”, and lyrically he doesn’t say anything that you’ll remember or think about when the verse is over, basically just continuing to describe the different ways in which this person makes the guy feel, all delivered with an unenthusiastic and completely forgettable flow.

Which makes me wonder, of all the guest MCs Nickelback could have chosen to spit a verse on this track to give it a new flavour, why would they pick a rapper whose music is just as much substance antimatter as Nickelback’s is? No Fixed Address is so unfocused and torturous to listen to that something as outlandish as a token rap verse before the last run of the chorus could be genuinely enjoyable as a break from the unpleasant sounds one had been hearing up until this point, in the event that they actually got a rapper that had anything of value to offer. Flo Rida, meanwhile, is probably the single least interesting rapper to ever hit the mainstream. He feels like a tedious non-element on his own songs, which are usually good only because of the infinitely more talented guest collaborators he brings into the mix, like Avicii or Sia Furler. I’d loved to have seen Nickelback bring on Lil Jon to shout over a banger beat about how the subject’s hardcore twerking got his cock runnin’ round, or have them bring on Rick Ross to rap about how this girl’s got him runnin’ round like he runs dope. Flo Rida’s contribution only serves to turn a bad song into an absolutely horrible one, and I’m all but certain that the only reason Nickelback brought him onto this song is because they figured they could get a subsidy for working with a mentally challenged person.

When you get right down to it, No Fixed Address isn’t that much of a change-up for Nickelback from an ambition standpoint. One could make the case that the band has more eagerness on this album than their previous material because of the new styles the band adopts, but that’s only relative. This isn’t Radiohead going from The Bends to OK Computer. This isn’t Neutral Milk Hotel going from On Avery Island to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. This is a band whose brand of rock has always been gutless and offencively dumbed-down and anonymous taking on new, better genres to forcibly wear down to their legendarily-unremarkable level. What saddens me is the amount of people that I know will listen to Nickelback’s spineless takes on these styles instead of the good-to-excellent bands that make these styles worth ripping off. If you want upbeat, forceful dance-rock music that’ll actually leave an impression, listen to The Rapture or Death from Above 1979. If you want adult alternative music that actually has a bit of passion behind it, listen to Snow Patrol. If you want a rock song that actually benefits from having a token rap verse, might I recommend Fences’ recent single “Arrows” that features a verse from Macklemore? All of those artists I recommended have far more creativity and character to them than Nickelback ever will. At the end of the day, No Fixed Address is Nickelback at their most sonically diverse, but mind-numbingly inane at the same time. There is nothing on this record that will blow anybody’s mind, and nothing substantial enough good or bad to recommend to people that absolutely hate Nickelback.

But honestly, you already knew that before you clicked on this article. By this point, Nickelback has already made their mark as the most hated rock band in history, and there is nary a thing they could do at this point to change the minds of people with a preconceived hatred of the band’s music, and at this point, reviewing their music negatively is pointless low-hanging fruit. Even though it could very well be their worst album yet, No Fixed Address is inevitably going to sell a tonne of copies and will be enjoyed immensely by Nickelback’s built-in fan-base that judges quality based on name recognition and status rather than actual musical creativity and passion. As a critic, I can commend Nickelback on making a record that merits more of a discussion than Here and Now or Silver Side Up, but that doesn’t make this LP any more listenable. If you have a seething hatred for Nickelback, you weren’t going to listen to this album anyways, as well you shouldn’t, and if you’re a huge fan of the band’s creative output up until this point, you’ve probably already pre-ordered the album, and are going to spin the LP on an endless loop and love every last insubstantial, banal moment of it. No Fixed Address is a perfect example of being jack of all trades, master of none, and I would sooner recommend hurling yourself out of an 11-story building. It’s cheaper, more thrilling, and you’ll be in less pain afterwards.

Your friend,
Jess Casebeer

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