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.