After their breakthrough hit ‘How You Remind Me’, Nickelback trod a safe path, trotting out a few more albums of solid post-grunge tunes.  In 2008, teaming up – at least in part – with legendary producer Mutt Lange, the band released ‘Dark Horse’, an album on which Chad Kroeger and co sounded awesome in terms of studio crunch.  Packing a bigger punch than ever, it’s a pity to say the least that ‘Dark Horse’ was ultimately spoilt – almost beyond redemption – by Kroeger’s appalling, very sexist “party-hard” lyrical stance.

Much like ‘Dark Horse’, lyrics aside, 2011’s ‘Here and Now’ features a couple of cracking tunes.  Never was this any more evident than on ‘This Means War’, a juggernaut of a rock song with a hugely unsubtle riff to match. A hugely expensive production job really sharpens the edges on a heavy, slightly downtuned riff which grabs the listener by the neck from the word go.  Beyond the riff, Nickelback offer more musical goodies on this opening statement – the bass is about as solid as it gets, and the lead vocal comes with a ton of grit.  There’s a reasonable chorus too; maybe not as instant as few of the band’s radio-staples, but it’s one which suits the uncompromising nature of the material in hand.  It’s one of Nickelback’s heaviest tunes and one which proves them a force to be reckoned with.  Drinking song ‘Bottoms Up’, too, offers a fabulous – if rather simplistic – riff, decent solo and rousing chorus.  It’s slightly lighter than ‘This Means War’, but still about as subtle as a sledgehammer.  It may sound a little like a ‘Dark Horse’ leftover, but it’s one of ‘Here and Now’s better numbers. Based on this pair of tunes, Nickelback really ought to consider wielding their heavier tendencies more often.   Despite going in with all guns blazing, going beyond these first couple of songs, the cracks – somewhat predictably – begin to appear.

Three years after ‘Dark Horse, you’d hope that Chad Kroeger had got his sexual hang-ups out of his system, but it appears that – at least on occasion – very little has changed.  On ‘Midnight Queen’ he trots out such bilge as “She my midnight queen / she’s gonna lick my pistol clean” and “Lay that body on her bottom and dump that salt on her hips / I was lyin’ when I told her that I’m only gonna  liquor tonight”– lyrics so unashamedly awful, they could rival ‘Dark Horse’’s indelible imagery of being ridden like a tractor and sex-games with jelly.  Still, if Chad Kroeger insists on getting his lyrics from KISS’s dustbin, should we have expected any different?  It’s a shame such vulgarity spoils a reasonable musical arrangement, with another fantastic sounding bottom end from Mike Kroeger’s bass…

A badly arranged piece, ‘Kiss It Goodbye’ would have benefitted no end from having a more danceable groove, but it’s so, so laboured that it achieves nothing beyond about thirty seconds in. The chorus makes no real impression either and the verses lumber past like they’re being dragged forcibly.  This is so un-natural – even by previous Nickelback standards – it makes the kind of lightweight radio-fodder of ‘When We Stand Together’ sound half decent.  Sounding like something from any number of Nickelback albums, the latter typifies the kind of thing the band could have written in their sleep.  The electric guitars mesh politely with the acoustics, while Chad tries his best to sound like he’s not just going through the motions with dollar signs in his eyes.  A simple “yeah, yeah, yeah” on the chorus screams hit; for those who love Nickelback, it’s commercial sheen will be appealing…but for the band’s many detractors, it just represents yet another voyage into safe radio territory .  If you’re not a fan, you’ll hate this song as much as you probably hate ‘Rockstar’ or ‘How You Remind Me’.

Of the band’s soft side ‘Don’t Ever Let It End’ celebrates good times over a marching beat, with an occasional hint of new-country.  It’s a better example of the band’s instantly accessible side; the melodies are strong, the chorus stronger still.  Although you’ll have heard similar styled material from the band many times, this track is one of ‘Here and Now’s shining lights.  ‘Lullaby’, meanwhile, does exactly what it says on the tin.  Like ‘When We Stand Together’, the blend of electric and acoustic guitars is textbook Nickelback, except here they’re augmented by occasional piano.  Old curly-head does his best to sound sensitive – as sensitive as one is able with the assistance of autotune, of course – while musically the rest of the band settles for hugely predictable stadium rock, lighters in the air balladry.  It would be wrong to say this was objectionable by any standards, but you’ll have heard far better from many other rock bands…including Nickelback.

Has there ever been a more frustrating band? Based on the kind of riffs which drive ‘This Means War’ and ‘Bottoms Up’, Nickelback could be great…but instead of concentrating on such riff-driven awesomeness, they insist on filling huge chunks of their albums with relatively boring drivel or loading up their songs with lyrical crassness.  It’s a criminal waste of potential talent from all concerned.  The best bits of ‘Here and Now’ are fantastic, but as always with Nickelback, they’re few and far between.

November 2011