The Great 80s Project: 1983

Looking back, it’s easy to see that 1983 was a massive year.  It represents the point where a few of its stars were making huge steps to being the decade’s megastars.  Five years into his career, Prince had finally succeeded in gaining worldwide success with his ‘1999’ album (a double platter of much filthiness); with their ‘War’ album, U2 made the leap from successful rock band to being an act with much bigger potential and Madonna showed early signs of being more exciting than your average pop performer.

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Bryan AdamsWhen you’ve topped the singles chart for a record breaking sixteen weeks, career-wise, there’s nowhere to go but down. For Bryan Adams, this was certainly the case. None of the albums he released in the wake of ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’ and its world dominating Robin Hood single in the early 90s were a patch on most of their predecessors. There were glimmers of goodness, of course: his collaborative single with ex-Spice Girl Melanie C remains a career highlight and 1999’s parent album ‘On a Day Like Today’ was pleasant enough, but generally speaking, it’s just a few tracks here and there which impress from then on in. Most of his twenty first century output possibly doesn’t resonate with anyone but the more hardcore fan. 2014’s ‘Tracks of My Years‘ was especially grim; aside from a few examples, the covers album represents either a spent force or contractual obligation and for Adams, it was a genuine nadir.

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BRYAN ADAMS – Tracks Of My Years

bryan_adamsDuring his earlier years, Bryan Adams released some great albums.  His fourth album (and international breakthrough) ‘Reckless’ remains a cornerstone of any AOR/melodic rock collection, sounding every bit as great as it did in 1984.  Its massive hits – ‘Run To You’ and ‘Summer of 69’ – have stayed in regular radio rotation around the world ever since and deservedly so.  1987’s ‘Into The Fire’ seems overlooked by comparison but is almost equally strong, while 1991’s ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’ – despite a leaning towards a Def Leppard backing vocal sound, courtesy of Mutt Lange – showed The Groover From Vancouver still very much at the forefront of the AOR scene with much to give.

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Most of Nickelback’s singles have been pretty lightweight. ‘How You Remind Me’ is a half-decent rock radio single, and ‘Rockstar’ is hugely unchallenging.  For those willing to not care about credibility and dig a little deeper,  Nickelback’s album tracks can occasionally offer something a little tougher, tunes that kick while retaining a certain level of user-friendliness.

‘Dark Horse’, their sixth album, has something instantly in its favour: it  is the first Nickelback album to be part-produced by Mutt Lange.  For the three of you who don’t know, Mutt Lange is a production legend. He’s worked with Def Leppard (‘Pyromania’, ‘Hysteria’), Bryan Adams (‘Waking Up The Neighbours’) and AC/DC (‘Highway To Hell’, ‘Back In Black’) and a whole bunch more. He has a trademark approach where he’ll beef up the sound and add lots of backing vocals (look no further than classic Def Leppard for the best examples); he’s even used that approach to some extent on Shania (ex-Mrs Mutt) Twain albums. I have a friend who has a theory: Mutt is a mad scientist. Bands knock on the door of his lab with their master tapes. He takes them and puts them into his special machine (the Mutt-o-tron™), shouts “Red light, yellow light, green light, GO!” and presto – everything comes out bigger, shinier and with extra Def Leppardy backing vocals.


And so it is with Nickelback’s ‘Dark Horse’. The album utilises all of Mutt Lange’s best tricks, and thanks to his partial presence, the band’s music has moved from tired sounding post-grunge, to more classic sounding hard rock. From the crunch of the opener it’s a good attempt at an attention grabber with a meaty riff in tow, but sadly, Chad Kroeger is an appalling lyricist and here he peddles out a bunch of smut that would make even Mötley Crüe cringe. This opening song is called ‘Something In Your Mouth’. I’m not gonna go into details, but let’s just say Kroeger sings about strippers – and not in a fun way.

Okay. With regard to the tunes which follow,‘Dark Horse’ there’s some enjoyable tunes, but excrutiating lyrics throughout spoil any chance of it ever being a decent record. During ‘Next Go Round’ Chad Kroeger sings (seemingly without irony) about doing it ‘until [he’s] good and sweaty until [he] can’t stand up’ and how he wants to be ridden ‘up and down the lawn’ (presumably like a tractor, since he name checks John Deere). Jesus Christ. During several other songs, Kroeger makes other lewd sexual references which spoil otherwise decent tunes.

‘Burn It To The Ground’ matches a hard driving riff with a huge chorus. The ‘hey’ vocal here is surely a sample (1000 Joe Elliotts?); overall, the end result is a winner. Sure, as expected, the lyrics are plain dumb, but at least this time Kroeger’s not thinking with his nob. Hmmm, a song about partying and drinking, on an album full of crass songs about girls? I sense a midlife crisis.

Mutt Lange’s work is the best thing about this record. Since with some help Nickelback can now present consistently decent tunes, maybe next time they’ll get someone clever in to help write the lyrics. I’m not sure Chad Kroeger can even spell shover chauver chauvinism.

Watch Chad talk about his house here! Could be better than the real thing.

January 2010