The Long Road [Bonus Tracks]

by: Nickelback

Thanks to their smash number one hit "How You Remind Me," Nickelback became the poster boys for neo-grunge in 2001. Throughout that year and into the next, the band and its ham-fisted lead singer Chad Kroeger, who always seems on verge of a hernia, were omnipresent as they peddled their cleaned-up, streamlined amalgam of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. Those three bands were unpredictable and, in various ways, shunned success when they received it. Nickelback courts it through their audience-pleasing grunge pastiche, which treats the style as just another variation of hard rock. Of course, on the surface grunge was just modern hard rock, but upon further inspection it was an interesting, unruly beast, fueled by genuine passion and angst, which is why each band had a distinct sound and a different way of fleeing from the scene when it all became too much. Perhaps Kroeger and his cohorts in Nickelback are also fueled by real angst and just aren't capable of turning it into art, but 2003's The Long Road, the follow-up to their 2001 breakthrough, Silver Side Up, suggests that they really are just heavy-rock hucksters. After all, this is an album that ends with "See You at the Show," the neo-grunge "We're an American Band" that invites their audience to come along on the Nickelback bus and party down -- a sentiment that kind of undercuts the endless barrage of tortured lyrics that precede it. Perhaps a flat-out party song would have been a welcome change of pace, but it, like every other song here, is performed in the band's lumbering style -- clumsy rhythms, guitars run through too much processed distortion slashing away at power chords that are echoed by harmonies that are nothing but root and the fifth notes (call 'em power harmonies) and topped off by Kroeger's strained gruff vocals. It's the same sound as Silver Side Up, but it's a little bit more professional and polished, which does have the neat trick of sanding down some of Nickelback's strident tendencies, leaving behind a sleek album of theatrical angst. So, Nickelback is more palatable here, but that doesn't mean they're any easier to digest, since Kroeger's voice does not wear well and the band's humorlessness and relentlessly earnest somberness are oppressive. And, like with any post-Nirvana wallow in angst and torment, Nickelback doesn't vent specific problems; it's all a generic litany of the torture of relationships and the evil that dad did. Hell, Kurt Cobain didn't just vent -- he sang about being stranded with his grandparents, crafted a tongue-in-cheek ode to '70s pomp rock, covered, wrote, and sang sweet love songs, and tempered his pain with sardonic humor. Nickelback needs something to lighten the gloom, where even "Feelin' Way Too Damn Good" and its "doo-doo-doo" hooks (which sound lifted from Tenacious D, bizarrely enough) feel like a burden, not a relief. Of course, that set-closer, "See You at the Show," is supposed to be a change of pace, too, but instead it calls all the turmoil of the album into question, making it all seem like a cynical ploy (a suspicion that is reinforced by a startling list of 29 "endorsers" in the liner notes, who all provide the band with free musical equipment). These were all problems on Silver Side Up, but they resonate more on The Long Road since they are reflected in the production's shiny surface. Nickelback can now afford a little more time in the studio and a little more time to indulge themselves, and they turn out the same record, only slicker, which only highlights just how oppressively and needlessly sullen this group is. [Initial copies of The Long Road contained three bonus tracks, including a cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" where the words are changed from "drink a little drink and shout out/she's with me" to "drink a fifth of Jack and shout out/she's with me" -- which proves that Nickelback are harder than Elton, but after a fifth of Jack, most guys wouldn't be shouting; they'd be slurring and then passing out.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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