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been listening to music since circa the beginning of human life. Clearly, music has evolved significantly over that time period, from cavemen bashing rocks together rhythmically to the great works of Beethoven and beyond. Infinite styles, genres, and subgenres have been created in order to describe these new advancements in sound and composition. In this past century alone, we have witnessed the creation of Motown, Jazz, Rock and Roll, Blues, Metal, Punk, countless fusions of the aforementioned genres, and even fusions of those genres. It is certain that creativity and originality are leading forces that allow music to advance. In the middle of this vast sea of music, though, stands a single group that threatens to halt the everevolving art of music and influence it to become a stagnant force of consistent mediocrity and unoriginality; a group that I would consider the worst band in the past decade. This godforsaken group goes by the name of Nickelback. To those who are unaware, Nickelback is a Canadian (strike one) “modern rock” band founded in the mid-1990’s by front-man Chad Kroeger, a man so ugly that third degree burn victims are thankful that they don’t look like him. To date, they have come out with five full length albums, with a sixth to be released sometime later this year. They have sold millions of albums and have gone on tour many times, playing sold out shows in some of the largest venues in the world. Nickelback and its members have composed and performed songs for films such as Spider-Man and have released several popular singles. Despite all of their monetary success and
popularity, however, I can still comfortably call them one of the worst bands in the history of music. As a musician who has been playing the bass guitar for over four years, I will first focus on their musicianship and songwriting abilities. Take their popular hit single “How You Remind Me”. It starts off with a soft acoustic guitar playing a generic chord progression while Chad Kroeger attempts to sing, an effort that sounds more like a man dying of dysentery crying out for help than anything. As the verse progresses to the bridge, the song becomes more hostile, as evidenced by the harsher lyrics and, of course, the use of the expected power chords over a slightly modified version of the original chords. After all, nothing says “I’m angry and want you to know it!” than chords that a third grader could have written. This energy stays consistent through the sing-along chorus, after which the song goes into the second verse, a near mirror-image of the first verse, but with new lyrics and – Gasp! – a drum beat in the background! It’s as if Nickelback is saying “This is the softer part of the song, but we’re still angry, dammit!” This format repeats for the duration of “How You Remind Me”, with the exception of the last bridge to the final chorus, in which the band displays their limited syncopation abilities, playing the same 2 notes in unison, further showing their feeble attempt at creating aggression and energy. The song fades out with a single elongated guitar note, and I utter a sigh of relief. The torture is now over. The only way one could appreciate Nickelback’s musical abilities is if they were put in contrast with their lyrics. Kroeger’s lyrics are reminiscent of those written by Bob Dylan – that is, if Dylan suffered a stroke, lost the knowledge of everything meaningful that happened in his life, and was eight years old. This lyrical expression, or lack thereof, is expressed in lines such as “Look at this photograph/ Every time I do it makes me laugh/ How did our eyes get so red?/ And
what the hell is on Joey’s head?” from “Photograph”, or “If everyone cared and nobody cried/ If everyone loved and nobody lied/ If everyone shared and swallowed their pride/ Then we’d see the day when nobody died” from “If Everyone Cared”, or, my favorite, “Kim’s the first girl I kissed/ I was so nervous that I nearly missed”, another gem from “Photograph”. Even when Nickelback is trying to be sexy, they still do not grasp the important art of subtlety. Take this line from “Figured You Out”, for instance: “I like your pants around your feet/ I like the dirt that’s on your knees/ And I like the way you still say please/ While you’re looking up at me”. There’s nothing wrong with a song about sex, of course, but there should be at least some semblance of subtlety in the lyrics. What’s the point of a song that blatantly says “I like engaging in intercourse with you”? It is bad songwriting, and the entire band should be ashamed of it. At this point, it is easy to overlook some of these glaring flaws in Nickelback. After all, all of the examples I cited are from their popular songs. Maybe those songs are just flukes, and the more obscure tracks on the albums show their true musicianship and creativity, right? Well, I bit the bullet and listened to every Nickelback album. It was grueling, traumatic, and one of the worst experiences of my life, but I feel more qualified to talk about the quality of Nickelback now than most of their fan base. Unfortunately, each one of Nickelback’s songs, even the lesserknown ones, suffers from these same flaws. Here is a line from the little-known track “Money Bought” to prove my point: “Cherry stem in her mouth, she could tie in a knot/ Favorite trick she does, one of ten she’s got”. Truly, that line is a work of genius that would make Shakespeare jealous. Having listened to the entire Nickelback discography, I can say with confidence that each of their songs follows the same format to the point where you could play two songs at once and have them sync without flaw (search for “How You Remind Me of Someday” on YouTube if
you don’t believe me). This really shows the extent of Nickelback’s unoriginality. Not only do they have a generic sound that is echoed by dozens of better acts in the last two decades, but their sound is so derivative that they rip themselves off. However, there is nothing wrong with sticking to a formula that works. AC/DC, for instance, used the same handful of chords and lyrical themes for decades, yet are still respected even today. They can make it work, because even their songs contain enough variety for new albums to be fresh. Unfortunately, Nickelback does not possess that ability, and their discography is the sound that despair makes when it vomits shame. In the 1990’s, there were several groups that were in the same category of mediocre music as Nickelback. Creed, Limp Bizkit, Lit, Livehouse, and Live (What is it with the letter L and producing repugnant bands?) were all staples of the modern rock or “post-grunge” scene. One could easily say that they are just as bad as Nickelback from a musical standpoint. All of those groups, however, suffered an early demise by the end of the decade. Yet Nickelback still lives on today. Even with their tremendous mediocrity and stagnancy, some would argue that Nickelback is not the worst band of all time. They would say that, even if Nickelback is so unoriginal and subpar, they can at least write a coherent song, which is more than can be said about some artists. This is true, and I concede that point. However, Nickelback has something that those groups do not have: popularity. Since Nickelback’s music is so similar to the music produced by their contemporaries, in addition to the help of their record label and promoters, they are able to draw large crowds and sell tons of albums. What is perhaps most scary, though, is that their popularity allows them to have a lot of influence on today’s society. Young musicians growing up will listen to Nickelback
– it is almost impossible not to hear them, since they are consistently on the radio and television – and they will want to be like the band. Thus, they will develop their sound to sound more like Nickelback, a band that already has a sound completely ripped off from others. Then the next generation will be derivative of a derivative of a derivative, a third degree derivative, if you will. It’s a very dangerous pattern, but it is quite feasible, considering the direction that popular music is heading today. If Nickelback’s style of music becomes even more popular than it is now, we could see the downfall of creativity. Emulation is and has always been a part of the evolution of music. Without it, there could be no development of genres and styles. However, when imitation gets to the point where it becomes a carbon copy of the original, then a problem arises. Eventually, if Nickelback is considered to be the greatest music by the populous, then all bands will strive to sound like them, and music as we know it will become homogenized. This is a nightmare straight out of Orwell’s 1984, where the entire population is brainwashed into believing a single strand of thought, and individuality is destructed. Thus, Nickelback threatens the essence of our American beliefs of free thought and progress. I sat for hours trying to think of a title for this article. I told myself that it had to be witty, original, or something that would grab the reader’s attention. Then I reflected on the subject that I was reviewing: Nickelback. Why should I put more effort into the title of my article than they do in their entire discography? I therefore went with the simple title that you now see. Nickelback may not be as offensive to the ears as your little brother’s garage band that pounds on drums for ten minutes with no melody, but they are the disease to your brother’s band’s cancer. There will always be cancer in the world, but it can be contained and its casualties kept to a minimum. If the disease of Nickelback is not quarantined soon, however, it could infect an
entire generation of hopeful musicians, and the world could go through a pandemic of mediocrity.