Nickelback – No Fixed Address Album Review

Review by Kelly O

1. “Million Miles an Hour” (4:10)
2. “Edge of a Revolution” (4:03)
3. “What Are You Waiting For?” (3:38)
4. “She Keeps Me Up” (3:57)
5. “Make Me Believe Again” (3:33)
6. “Satellite” (3:57)
7. “Get ‘Em Up” (3:53)
8. “The Hammer’s Coming Down” (4:24)
9. “Miss You” (4:02)
10. “Got Me Runnin’ Round” (ft. Flo Rida) (4:05)
11. “Sister Sin” (3:25)

To say that Nickelback has its share of detractors is an understatement. There are those that have argued there is no musical act on the current landscape more hated than the Chad Kroeger-fronted post-grunge band, and they don’t exactly have an indefensible stance. There are certainly other musicians who are more widely disdained–Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus all come to mind–but they all have a very passionate fanbase as well, whereas you would be hard-pressed to find many people who would admit to voluntarily listening to the Canadian band, much less being a fan.

And yet clearly that perception is untrue as Nickelback is–much to the chagrin of its detractors–one of the most successful and best-selling rock bands of the twenty-first century. Since their breakthrough album in 2001’s Silver Side Up, there hasn’t been an LP from them to sell less than two million copies in the United States, much less worldwide sales. Their songs are mainstays of multiple radio formats and not just because they’re pushed there by aggressive marketing campaigns. Try as we might to imagine it, the idea that no one really likes Nickelback is a fallacy and the truth is that there is an incredibly large fanbase out there that looks forward to each album.

That means, of course, that their new album No Fixed Address is expected to sell through the roof with today’s release. It’s already well on its way to being a hit, with first single “Edge of a Revolution” topping the mainstream rock chart and second single “What Are You Waiting For?” burning its way up the adult pop chart. That chart dichotomy between the two singles perfectly represents the clash that many people find with Nickelback; they should be too pop for rock charts and too edgy for pop music, but they manage to achieve success on both and that drives some people to frustration.

For those music listeners who bemoan the fact that Nickelback’s songs all sound like the same commercially-safe and sanitized rock, there is some good news and bad news. The good news is that the band has finally decided to change up their tried-and-true formula to throw a little variety into their music. The bad news is that nearly every variation is a move for the worst. On No Fixed Address the band tries to shake up their reliable but oft-criticized song formula by adding some of their poppiest hooks yet, on songs like “She Keeps Me Up” which begins with an EDM-laced funk sound. It’s a jarring moment in the album and the first real time that Nickelback has offered something truly surprising in years, but it doesn’t work at all. The song is the kind of dance rock we would have expected from Maroon 5 before they went full-on pop, but Kroeger and his crew aren’t nearly as comfortable in the subgenre as Adam Levine was. Lyrically it’s the same sort of “Here’s a hot girl that everyone wants” track that pervades their previous work, but those albums gave the song a dirty stripper-rock style. This one includes a digitally-tweaked female vocal loop that wouldn’t be out of place on a No Doubt album.

There’s one other track that deviates from the Nickelback norm, and that’s “Got Me Runnin’ Round.” The presence of Flo Rida as a featured artist should be the first hint that this is offering something very different, but in truth it doesn’t shift gears into partway through the song. The inclusion of a richer set of instrumentation starts the song off decently enough, settling it into middle-range radio-rock until just under three minutes into the song when Rida shows up with his patented rapid-fire lyrics. It’s so poorly integrated as to be laughable, making listeners think more of the wedding of pop music and rap than any sort of interesting change of pace.

Perhaps the biggest problem with No Fixed Address is that producer Chris Baseford and the band do try those deviations. Nickelback is never going to win over the hard rock crowd, nor that of music elitists and critics. They produce very popular music that is fun to listen to even if it’s not very good, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll never argue that they’re a good rock band but I still listen to them regularly and there are tracks on this album that I will happily listen to. “Edge of a Revolution” is a rollicking anthem with the right rebellious attitude, even if it lacks complete focus. The idea behind it seems to be “Fight the Power!” without any particular target to do so; instead it just throws out a lot of well-known modern-day problems like the NSA, Wall Street and slanted media. But it’s an enjoyable head nodder and it follows up a good, fast-paced number in “Million Miles an Hour.” The opening track will likely turn people off with its use of digital tweaks to Kroeger’s voice, but the guitar licks are solid and it’s got a frenetic energy that really works. The band also throws some of their trademarked edge humor in with “Get Em Up,” a dirty Southern rock-tinged track about a bank heist that goes terribly wrong. It has the same feel as “Animals,” one of their better tracks, and that allows it to stand out.

But for every good track there’s an example of the bad Nickelback norm. “What Are You Waiting For” may be the emptiest anthem of all-time, with their famous and well-worn cookie-cutter “inspiring” musical structure in place to frame platitudes that mean nothing at all. With lyrics like “Are you waiting for the right excuse?/Are you waiting for a sign to choose/While you’re waiting it’s the time you lose/What are you waiting for?”, it sounds as if Kroeger is going out of his way to avoid referencing anything directly. It’s a song designed to appeal to the most number of fans by being as vague as possible and it is eye-rolling in its hollowness. The same can be said about the generic “Make Me Believe Again,” which at least has a catchy chorus and a deeper, more developed production sound to spare it. “Satellite” makes grand but meaningless statements like “Let’s dance around this bedroom/like tonight’s our only night” and sounds audibly like just about every rock ballad they’ve done. It would all add up to their typical mediocre-yet-enjoyable output if it weren’t for the fact that they seem more dedicated than ever to the idea of homogenizing their sound for mass consumption.

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