BLAST FROM THE PAST #1: Silver Side Up
Yeah, that’s right. I own a Nickelback album.
It’s been resting comfortably in one of my CD towers in my bedroom, mostly untouched, for nearly a decade. I got it when I was 15, right in the thick of my nu-metal/pop-punk/post-grunge phase. In fact, I asked for it for my birthday that year. My birthday is September 27. The year was 2001. Silver Side Up, fresh off the radio success of the band’s breakout single “How You Remind Me,” had just come out a few weeks earlier, on September 11. (I think we all remember what else happened that day.)
You know what else I wanted for that birthday? Come Clean, the first album from Fred Durst protégés Puddle Of Mudd. Ah, to be 15 and so easily charmed by songs called “She Fucking Hates Me.”
But anyway, back to Nickelback. “How You Remind Me” had first hit the airwaves about a month before the release of Silver Side Up, so obviously this was well before the complete and utter oversaturation of not just that song, but the many soundalikes that would eventually follow from the Canadian rockers. So I was intrigued by what this new band (although not really “new,” since Silver Side Up was actually their third album) had to offer.
My period of interest in Nickelback’s music began sometime in August of 2001 and ended within the next few months. This is because when I actually listened to Silver Side Up I found myself losing interest not long after the final notes of “Too Bad” faded away. Aside from the songs that ended up becoming overplayed radio hits, there was little else on the album that provoked any positive reaction. Even among the three singles, I only ever liked “How You Remind Me” and “Too Bad.”
And that was it. Two decent songs out of 10, and both of those songs became big hits that got played on the radio all the time. I could have gotten the same amount of enjoyment from Silver Side Up if I’d never owned the album at all. So from then on I took a cue from Pete Townshend and vowed that I wouldn’t get fooled again.
But maybe there’s something in this album that I was missing back then that everyone else saw and that I might be able to find now. Sure, my tastes in music have changed a lot since I was 15, but there’s nothing wrong with a little meat-n’-potatoes rock n’ roll to mix in there every now and then, right?
THE ALBUM, REVISITED
Silver Side Up begins with “Never Again,” a loud, angry song about a woman who gets beaten by her heavy-drinking husband. This means lots of distortion on the guitars, a whole lot of power chord progressions, and imagery like “The living room becomes a boxing ring.”
Except it’s not, because in a boxing ring both combatants are highly trained professional fighters who have spent months preparing for the match. And our poor battered heroine, up until the last verse, is never depicted as anything other than a helpless victim who’s told to lie about how she got those wounds on her face. This metaphor only works if the husband is Iron Mike Tyson and the woman is Glass Joe.
“Never Again” was the last single from Silver Side Up and my least favorite of the three, in no small part due to the unremarkable riffing and overall lack of catchiness. But the thing that always bugged me the most was the bridge, where Chad Kroeger steps in and directly addresses the abuser: “Father’s a name you haven’t earned yet/You’re just a child with a temper/Haven’t you heard ‘don’t hit a lady’?/Kicking your ass would be a pleasure.” So his response to the abuser’s tough-guy posturing is… more tough-guy posturing.
Yet who ends up doing something to make it stop? The victim does – by shooting the bastard. So now she’ll probably end up going to jail for a long time. But dude, you know what’s going on, you know who’s responsible, and you still end up not doing anything about it? What the hell, Chad! This girl’s husband likes to get drunk and punch her in the face and you can’t even be bothered to call the cops?
Next up is “How You Remind Me.” Here it is, ladies and gentlemen – the song that lots of other Nickelback songs over the last nine years want so desperately to be. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. And we’ve all heard it enough times for a thousand lifetimes. This is partially because the song was a huge hit that got a ton of airplay.
It’s also because a lot of Nickelback’s singles follow the same formula: clean-toned verses, short pre-chorus, that chug-chug-chug-chug that always signals the arrival of the chorus, and then the big arena-friendly chorus with distorted high-gain guitars, a short instrumental section or simple guitar solo, maybe a brief reprise of the first verse, and then chug-chug-chug-chug and it’s back to the big chorus. “Someday,” “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” “Savin’ Me”… they all follow that same formula established by “How You Remind Me.” Hell, go listen to the chorus in “Hangnail” and then come back to this song. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? Oh, by the way – “Hangnail” is track 9 on this album!
To be fair, they don’t actually re-write “How You Remind Me” as often as you’d think given their reputation. But the problem with Silver Side Up is that every song has the same verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure with the occasional third verse thrown in to “shake things up.” Oh, and nearly every song has the exact same guitar tone. And whenever they use an effect it doesn’t really add much to the song; it just feels like it’s there so they can say they did something different with the guitar sounds. The drumming is bland and the bass just follows whatever the guitars are playing. Luckily these guys are actually better riff writers than I thought (not that that’s saying very much), but there’s so little variety in their sound and songwriting that after a while everything just starts to blend together.
Okay, so maybe there are a whole bunch of problems with Silver Side Up.
They do finally get around to doing something different – they use a slide guitar and adopt a more melodic playing style for much of the Southern-rock-influenced “Good Times Gone,” which is the last song on this album. So by the time they finally pull a different trick out of their sleeve, you’ve gotten so tired of hearing the same old thing that you’re barely even paying attention anymore. And even then, they can’t help but try turning it into a more “traditional” Nickelback song.
Come to think of it, the Southern-rock-influenced album closer has become a Nickelback tradition in its own right, hasn’t it? “Good Times Gone,” “Rockstar,” “This Afternoon”… God, even the songs where they break away from the formula stick to a formula.
In fact, while writing this epic novel of a post I went and listened to some non-single tracks on Nickelback’s more recent albums. This pretty much left me limited to The Long Road as the band apparently thinks they’re rock’s answer to Michael Jackson; their last two albums have spawned a combined total of 15 singles in the U.S. (7 of 11 songs from All The Right Reasons, 8 of 11 from Dark Horse), and the only other artist I can think of to do that is the King of Pop himself.
And guess what? It’s the same damn guitar tone, over and over again, on the vast majority of their songs, and the guitars are so loud that even if something else is going on in the background it’s too hard to hear it. There’s the rare acoustic song to break up the monotony, not to mention the pointless effects in songs like “Gotta Be Somebody,” where the tremolo is just barely audible, but other than that they haven’t changed a single damn thing about their sound. (Their lyrics, on the other hand, have gotten progressively hornier – think AC/DC without the humorous double entendres.)
This is why people always say that every Nickelback song sounds the same. Not because they keep re-writing “How You Remind Me.” Not because they never break away from the verse-chorus-verse-etc. formula either. It’s because their instruments always sound exactly the same on every song. Nickelback is nothing if not consistent.
High Point: “Too Bad” combines power-ballad verses with hard-rock choruses. It’s a catchy song with the album’s best lyrics and also some mildly interesting effects during the guitar solos. “Good Times Gone” takes runner-up honors if you can get past lyrics like “Where the good times gone?/All the stupid fun/And all that shit we’ve done/Where the good times gone?”
Low Point: “Hollywood.” I hated this song when I was 15 and it still sucks now. It has the most boring riff on the album, a repetitive guitar solo that basically relies on the wah pedal to give it anything resembling an interesting quality, vocal effects that make Kroeger’s voice hard to hear at times, and an absolutely awful chorus. But there is one thing they got right with “Hollywood” – they made it the shortest track on the album.
And as for “How You Remind Me,” once among the “two decent songs out of 10”… I’m sorry, I’ve heard way too many songs that tried to be that song over the last nine years – from Nickelback and from bands who want to be Nickelback – to ever want to listen to it again. It’s catchy, but it’s also the most generic song on an album that’s pretty generic already.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Nickelback have since become one of the most commercially successful and critically reviled bands of the last decade. And it’s not hard to see why on both counts – they still pretty much sound the same as they did when they first broke into the mainstream nine years ago, proving time and time again that they are loyal followers of Mike Love’s Law (“don’t fuck with the formula”).
It’s great news if you fell in love with Silver Side Up and wanted more of the same. Not so great for anyone else. They keep pulling out the same tricks on every album – hell, the Tiny Mix Tapes review of All The Right Reasons quoted Chad Kroeger describing his own band as “on autopilot” – and yet they keep selling millions. It’s like if Michael Jordan only knew how to dunk from the foul line and kept winning the dunk contest anyway.
Nickelback’s plan is basically to stick with what’s been selling for the last ten years, so if you don’t already like this band chances are they’ll probably never win you over. They won me over for a brief period back in 2001 and promptly lost me because I got bored with Silver Side Up really fast.