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Nickelback - Why is such a big band asking if everyone cared?

The year is 2003. The scene is a bar-slash-nightclub somewhere in the world. The dance music dims, and a low a cappella voice takes over the loudspeaker: “Never made it as a wise man; never cut it as a poor man stealing.” By the time the voice gets to the song’s refrain and title, the entire club—rockers and pop princesses and skeptics alike—is singing along. The voice belongs to Chad Kroeger, lead singer of Nickelback. The song is This is How You Remind Me, the 2003 rock anthem that skyrocketed nickelback to the top of music charts worldwide. Canadians rejoiced. At last, they had an international music representative other than Celine Dion! And accurate representatives they were. The music of Nickelback conjures up the desire to watch hokey and drink beer, two of Canada’s national pastimes. It’s no wonder that How You Remind Me hit the top of the Canadian Singles Chart so fast. It even earned them a place in Canadian music history: How You Remind Me topped the Canadian Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously, a feat previously accomplished only by The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive Not that Nickelback were an overnight sensation. Silver Side Up, the album that brought the world How You Remind Me, was actually their third album. The band had been around since 1995, when frontman Chad Kroeger, bassist Mike Kroeger and drummer Ryan Vikedal began jamming together in the small town of Hannah in the beautiful, mountainous Canadian province of Alberta. They were originally a cover band, but eventually tired of playing other people’s music, and moved to Vancouver to start recording their own original songs. Prior to joining the band, Mike Kroeger worked in a Starbucks, punching those pesky drinks that are priced at a few dollars and ninety-five cents into the cash register. Mike Kroeger apparently said the words “Here’s your nickel back” so many times that eventually, he turned his now-signature quote into the name of his band, and Nickelback was born. Nickelback first showed signs of success with their second album, The State, which contained the Top 10 single Leader of Men. No one remembers this song today, however, and How You Remind Me remains the band’s signature song. Since Silver Side Up, Nickelback has enjoyed incredible success worldwide. Their worldwide record sales total at least twenty-five million to date. Buying records hasn’t been the only way that fans have shown their appreciation. Nickelback has also been bigged up in the most prominent arena of Canadian pride: the hockey rink. Two NHL goalies have honoured Nickelback through their goalie masks: Cam Ward has worn one featuring Nickelback playing, and Jamie McLennan has worn one featuring the album artwork from Silver Side Up. And if you need more proof that nickelback music and hockey go hand in hand, consider this: the Nickelback remake of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (their cover, featuring Kid Rock, of the Elton John classic) kicks off every Saturday night instalment of Hockey Night in Canada. There are, however, certain juries who recognize Nickelback’s true talent. We’re not talking just about the fans; we’re talking about the folks who decide who wins music awards. To date, Nickelback have won Juno Awards (the Canadian answer to the Grammies—Nickelback has swept up nine of them); an American Music Award; an MTV Music Award for best video (for their song Hero from the first Spiderman movie); and a World Music Award for Best-Selling Rock Artist (okay, so we’re back to sales again). Chad Kroeger also received a very special 32nd birthday present: another World Music Award, this time for Best Rock Group, in 2006. This impressive list is just of those awards they’ve won, and doesn’t include their countless nominations (including several Grammy nods). As is the case with many of the world’s best-selling musicians today, we must note that impressive record sales do not always go hand-in-hand with critical acclaim. The harshest criticisms emerged with the release of Nickelback’s 2003 album, The Long Road. “How the hell’d we wind up like this?” Chad Kroeger crooned in the opening line of the album’s first single, Someday. Shortly after this song hit radio waves, the internet was graced with How You Remind Me of Someday, an internet meme simultaneously spoofing and criticizing the similarities between How You Remind Me and Someday. One was slowed down and the other sped up, so that they’d play at the same speed, suggesting that Someday was basically How You Remind Me with different lyrics. Mike Kroeger shrugged off this criticism in interviews, claiming that bands who have a distinct style run the risk of producing songs that sound similar to one another. He compared Nickelback to AC/DC, who he claimed faced a similar problem. Less creative music fans don’t do internet spoofs, but simply complain: why do all Nickelback song sound the same? Why can’t Canadian beer-and-hockey music be represented by another band, like perhaps the Sam Roberts Band? The members of Nickelback are reported to ignore these criticisms, focusing instead on compliments from their fans. “Some people say that Nickelback sucks,” a very solemn-looking Chad Kroeger explained in a now-legendary 2003 interview of MuchMusic, Canada’s answer to MTV. “Um, no. Nickelback does NOT suck. [Twenty-five] million fans in the world can tell you that Nickelback does NOT suck.” Try as they might, critics could not crush the Kroeger brothers’ confidence. One Portugal audience came close, though: in August of 2002, members of the audience of the Ilha do Ermal festival threw rocks onstage and sprayed Chad Kroeger with water. When Chad Kroeger confronted the audience, someone threw a rock at his head. The band walked offstage mid-song. In 2005, Ryan Vikedal left the band—or so the remaining members of Nickelback claimed. Ryan Vikedal himself says he was asked to leave because he was “not the type of drummer” the band required. He was replaced by Daniel Adair, formerly of 3 Doors Down. 2005 also saw the release of another hit Nickelback album, All the Right Reasons. This album contained the moving single, Photograph, based on the Kroegers’ childhood in Hannah, Alberta. (Incidentally, the music video was filmed in Hannah, Alberta and features many landmarks from the Kroegers’ youth. The line “This is where I went to school” is accompanied by an image of Chad Kroeger standing outside of his actual former high school.) Like many nickelback songs, Photograph was criticized: critics claimed it was sentimental and “not true rock.” Others spoofed the sappy video on YouTube. Still others saw nothing wrong with a rock band paying tribute to its roots, and even commended the band for reminding us that “rock is what it wants to be.” Some of the most scathing criticisms of All the Right Reasons, and of Nickelback in general, currently floating around on the internet include one from Q Magazine back in December 2005: “Like the rock equivalent of an SUV, All The Right Reasons is huge, polished and ultimately pointless.” Equally biting is the verdict from E! Online: “All the Right Reasons doesn't so much pick up where 2003's The Long Road left off, but damn near replicates that album in whole.” The harshest critique, however, comes from a review on AllMusic.Com: “…Despite all their newly developed relative nuances, Nickelback remain unchanged: they're still unspeakably awful.” Others criticized Nickleback lyrics. Many critics mock Nickelback’s not-so-subtle use of double entendres, such as “She’s using her head again,” and “It’s just a little hard to leave/when she’s going down on me.” The groups attempts to make Nickelback lyrics tongue-in-cheek failed miserably through its Animals lyrics: “I got both hands on the wheel, while you got both hands on my gears” and “I guess nobody ever taught her not to speak with a full mouth.” Still others cringed at Nickelback’s high school English level of poetry “If everyone cared and nobody cried/ If everyone loved and nobody lied.” (This is a line from the If Everyone Cared lyrics.) All the Right Reasons contained a tribute to Dimebag Darrell, who’d been shot onstage the year before, but even that song failed to rescue All the Right Reasons from all the harsh critics. The critics may have been harsh on All the Right Reasons, but fans clearly felt that All the Right Reasons hit All the Right Notes. The album continued to hang out in the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 a good year and a half after its release. Recently, Nickelback released the song Far Away. In Far Away, Nickelback lyrics take on a sentimental note: “You know, you know, you know I wanted you to stay/’Cause I needed/I need to hear you say/I love you.” Word has it that Nickelback is getting set to bring the world a new album in late 2007 or early 2008. Will it sell millions of copies? Probably. But will it bring us a new, innovative songs to croon to, or will it be a mere replay of songs we’ve been crooning to since 2001—songs like Rockstar, Animals, Someday, Photograh, and If Everyone Cared? Keep your radio tuned…