Nickelback isn’t losing any sleep over their rock heritage these days.
Once derided by some music fans as one of the most hated bands of all time, the Alberta act has survived many blows from critics and the din of negativity from naysayers on social media.
But with an upcoming Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction, a headlining role at the Boots and Hearts festival next summer, and a brand new studio album due out this month, the conversation surrounding Nickelback is shifting from a point of derision to one that recognizes their contributions to pop culture.
READ MORE: Nickelback is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame
A few years ago, a clip from their “Photograph” music video featuring lead singer Chad Kroeger clutching a picture frame became one of the Internet’s favorite memes. While the image used to mock Nickelback at times, it also made them ubiquitous in a new corner of online conversation.
And streaming data shows that no matter how many people beat them, they still listen enough to Nickelback’s hits to place them among the top 500 artists on Spotify.
Asked about the separation between the hate and the plays, guitarist Ryan Peake offers a balanced approach.
“We don’t think about it,” he insisted in a recent interview. “There is always room for more listeners, for us. We are happy to see the numbers.”
get roll their first full-length album in five years, suggests that Nickelback might be thinking a little deeper than they’re letting on.
The record effectively returns the group’s sound to its familiar state after some unusual turns that saw them collaborate with rapper Flo Rida in 2014 and a few years later release an album that some received as a piercing criticism of politics in the Donald Trump presidency.
Instead of taking unpredictable detours, Get rolling is a throwback to Nickelback’s early glory days when they were inescapable on the radio and the punchline of music snobs.
The roaring album opener “San Quentin”, inspired by a real-life prison guard, could have been recorded by Metallica a few decades ago, while “Those Days” features Kroeger effectively a follow-up to “Photograph” where he runs away ‘ a list of generation X cultural touchstones, from date nights look A Nightmare on Elm Street to punch in *69 on a land line.
At the center of the album is the melodic, mid-tempo rock ballad “Tidal Wave,” which begins with the sound of shoreline waves as Kroeger delivers verse after verse of water metaphors. He compares love to navigating a cataclysmic force of nature, or as he describes it in the interview, a romance that is “dangerously exciting, but we all know how it’s going to end.”
“Tidal Wave” is as catchy as it is goofy, leaving it up to the listener to decide if the band is in on the joke. Other tracks titled “Skinny Little Missy” and “Steel Still Rusts” suggest that maybe they are.
The Morning Programme: 15 November
Taken as a whole, Get rolling might be the closest Nickelback ever gets to a concept album, if you accept that its theme is built around a couple of dudes in their 40s cracking open beers to reflect on the good old days.
But Peake and Kroeger are quick to stamp out any suggestion Nickelback came to the table with a cohesive idea for the project, saying their creative process is too scattered.
“We were going to make a really terrible concept album,” Peake said.
Even if Nickelback doesn’t subscribe to the theory of a bigger vision, it’s clear they’ve put some thought into recalculating their direction heading into 2017’s album Feed the machine was met with a lukewarm response from listeners and critics.
Released during the Trump presidency, the album’s cover showed a faceless autocrat standing in front of an adoring crowd with robotic wires attached to his back, which some saw as a half-hearted attempt at a political statement which never played out beyond the title track.
Peake disputes the idea that Nickelback ever tried to skewer Trump in the first place.
“It’s like people looking at clouds in the sky,” he said of deriving any kind of meaning from the concept.
“Some people just need to see something. I get it.”
However they intended it to be received, Feed the machine found mixed success. Although it was Nickelback’s highest charting debut in the UK, it was less popular in the US, falling to their lowest first week sales since their breakthrough Silver side up in 2001.
“I think at that time politics was so blurred with showbiz that for a while it was hard to tell what was what,” Kroeger said. “And it felt like that was the thing that we all wanted to say: For better or for worse, regardless of which side you’re on, it doesn’t matter because we don’t like to alienate.”
They don’t write songs “for the left or the right,” Kroeger added.
“We make songs for people and we’re all part of that race, I’d like to think.”
READ MORE: Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger says everyone mispronounced his last name
The topic sparks a debate between the two bandmates as they consider the merits of political commentary in rock music.
“It’s really selfish when a band or artist wants to so aggressively tell you where they stand,” Kroeger suggested.
“Music is supposed to be about enjoyment or escapism. It’s not supposed to be…”
“Well, Bob Dylan,” Peake replied.
“Yes. Someone else,” adds Kroeger. “We don’t have that type of agenda. Our agenda is to go in, make music that we enjoy, and hopefully our fans enjoy… That’s it, really.”
Get rolling keep it as simple as that.
All 11 tracks sound like they’re ready to be released as singles, blasted on a car stereo or belted out at a live show.
Peake hopes it will be enough to draw audiences back when Nickelback announces plans for a major tour in the near future. Their summer dates will include a stop at Boots and Hearts in Oro-Medonte, Ont., on Aug. 11.
Until then, he keeps his expectations in check.
“The climate around our group’s name changes back and forth,” he said.
“The noise of social media, the noise of whatever is in the news at the time, popular opinion, blah, blah, blah.”
He added: “But there’s a lot of unabashed enjoyment of the music, and that’s why we’re here… We want people to come and sing the songs. We want them to sing to us and to each other. It’s the best.”
FireAid concert organizers thank Nickelback for being the first to commit to the concert