Showing posts with label nickelback. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nickelback. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

video review: 'no fixed address' by nickelback

Ugh, that should take care of the duds this week. Man, what a mess.

Okay, next up... hmm, either that Savages/Bo Ningen project, that critically acclaimed Lucette debut, or that Leighton Meester album everyone keeps yammering about. Decisions, decisions. Either way, stay tuned!

album review: 'no fixed address' by nickelback

I know a lot of people who hate Nickelback.

And here's the thing, most of you don't get it if you don't live up here in Canada. For as much as Nickelback ruled the radio across the Bush administration, they were much more omnipresent here in Canada, where regulations require the radio play a certain amount of Canadian content. And sure, we get Metric, Marianas Trench, Serena Ryder, and a slew of other great Canadian acts, but it also means that of the many singles Nickelback charts, they all get airplay up here.

And it's probably from that broader point-of-view that I can say this with certainty - trust a guy who knows, there are a lot worse bands than Nickelback. The band got hit with the 'worst band ever' label not because they were legitimately that much more terrible than their peers - when Three Days Grace, Creed, Seether, Hinder, and Theory Of A Deadman have produced far worse music - but Nickelback were everywhere in the 2000s and that's made their mediocrity a lot easier to hate. Now granted, Nickelback have written some terrible songs, especially when they were trying to go for any pretensions of depth, but there was a place for a few of them, when they catered to the lowest common denominator of hard rock debauchery and sleaze. And to be fair, it was a much better fit for Chad Kroeger's voice than the insufferable bitching of songs like 'This Is How You Remind Me' or 'Someday' or 'Saving Me' or the pretentious platitudes of 'Gonna Be Somebody', 'If Today Was Your Last Day', and especially 'If Everyone Cared'. To me, Nickelback worked best on grimy tracks about fighting, drinking, screwing, and behaving like swaggering rock star assholes, completely awash in bad taste almost analogous to Katy Perry.

Now some of you are inevitably thinking, 'Wait, you rip on bro-country all the time when it gets sleazy and ignorant in much of the same formula, are you seriously giving Nickelback a pass'? And let me make this clear, I'm not doing that - catering to the lowest common denominator will only get you so far, and Nickelback can get away with more than most mostly thanks to Chad Kroeger having a lot of presence behind the mic, the band developing more of a rock edge, and some genuinely solid songs like 'This Afternoon' and 'Burn It To The Ground'. But there are huge tracts of their discography that pushes the sleaze into uncomfortable territory, and it's rarely enough fun to back it up. But most of the hatred they get isn't for that reason - no, it's not about hating Nickelback but hating the fans of Nickelback for supposedly giving them a free pass - something that rings more than a little hypocritical from some critics who have praised similar brands of vulgarity when it comes from hip-hop or metal or R&B. Say what you will about Nickelback's Dark Horse, for as gross as most of the album is, at least it's honest and knows what it is.

That being said, with Nickelback's commercial decline in the 2010s, they have aimed to diversify their sound a bit. Recruiting Joey Moi to produce for their 2011 album Here And Now proved surprisingly effective in adding some punch and meat to their usual formula, although that album felt bogged down in unnecessary and really quite embarrassing ballads. In other words, I had no idea how good their newest album No Fixed Address would turn out to be - so what did we get?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

video review: 'trouble will find me' by the national

So, I normally post these as an edit to my typical review posts, but I want to try something new by having the videos on the main page. If you have any comments regarding the reviews, make sure to let me know whether or not you prefer the old format.

So, in case you didn't take a look at the written album review, this is my retrospective review of The National's album 'Trouble Will Find Me', and where I finally deliver the smackdown on Mumford & Sons. Fun stuff!

album review: 'trouble will find me' by the national (RETRO REVIEW)

So here's the rant you've all been waiting for, the topic of which I'm sure has been seared into your mind since the very beginning: why I, like apparently every other music critic, thoroughly hates Mumford & Sons with the hatred of a thousand suns. The faux-folk rock band that deserves to be consigned into the flaming abyss, the band that co-opted the image and earnestness of folk rock and turned it into shameless commercialism, clearly one of the worst acts to have every blighted this world today. And I, as a critic with reputably harsh standards, clearly must hate them with extreme force, right?

Well... no, not really. Make no mistake, Mumford & Sons aren't a good band, but they sure as hell aren't the scourge of all music as a slew of would-be hipsters have branded them. They have some natural talent for catchy-as-all-hell melody lines and memorable harmonies, they have a mostly distinctive sound, and they sell all of their material with gutwrenching sincerity (which, believe it or not, goes a long way with me). To me, I've consigned to the rung of 'painfully mediocre', right next to Nickelback (don't even start).

Hmm, come to think of it, Mumford & Sons does seem to strike me as rather similar to the post-grunge act that ruled the rock airwaves throughout the early 2000s. Both bands have a lead singer that sounds like he's delivering his lines directly from his colon, both were accused of selling out to the tasteless masses (believe it or not, this was actually true for very early Nickelback), and both made music that somehow lodged itself in our brains like tapeworms. 

But what I think is most indicative of the similarities between these two bands is a very important concept that I've been skirting about for a while, but haven't found the right time to talk about until now: artistic framing. This is most often conceived as a device for literature and film, where the context can be adjusted depending on how the scene is written or shot, and which can be used to powerful effect by talented directors and great writers. One of the reasons, for example, while many people despise Twilight isn't for the misogyny or the stalking or the Mormon undercurrents, but because said elements are framed in such a romantic light. In the hands of any sane writer, Bella's story could have easily been written as that of a thriller or a melodrama between a very stupid girl and her vampiric stalker, but Stephanie Meyer sets up these events to feel romantic and attractive to Bella, and thus the reader - you know, abandoning appropriate context in favour of the author's wish-fulfillment fantasy.

And believe it or not, this becomes a big issue in music as well. A lot of alarmists tend to look at acts like Eminem and Kanye West and see terrible, reprehensible human beings promoting messages of misogyny, homophobia, and violence - and yet both artists have made it clear from the very beginning that they aren't role models and that nobody should aspire to be like them (hell, Eminem wrote several songs about it). They (or at least their artistic personas) are assholes, and we shouldn't so much glorify them as recoil from or pity them (that's the one big reason that I give a pass to Relapse, an album that seems designed to make Slim Shady look as pathetic and wretched as possible). Of course, the question then becomes that some people will interpret the surface themes of the album anyways and follow their manifests of hatred anyways, but that's a trickier topic for another day.

So coming back to Mumford & Sons and Nickelback, the same problems with framing crop up here too (albeit significantly more with Mumford & Sons). We're expected to buy into these acts as having sensitivity and/or more heartfelt emotions, and it feels completely disingenuous with Nickelback's humourless and sour delivery and Mumford & Sons' consistently terrible lyrics. You don't buy into the emotions they're trying to convey because some element of their framing completely shatters that immersion. It's why I'd argue Nickelback has actually slowly been getting a bit better over the years: they've actually embraced the fact that they're douchebags, and are just rolling with it to create douche-bro party anthems that at least feel authentic (if a little gross).

Mumford & Sons, unfortunately, haven't quite reached that point of self-awareness, which I think is one of the big sticking points for me with the band. They deliver all of their material with the heartfelt earnestness of a man proposing marriage in the mid-1800s, but their lyrics are rife with lines that undermine this earnestness at every turn, which makes it look all the more like a pose (also, their music has little-to-no instrumental texture and the production is pop as all hell, but that's another issue). And more than once, I've wished that we could find that band that had all of the earnest sincerity of Mumford & Sons, but had the lyrical context and texture and was framed in a way that made sense or added additional depth.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to The National, the indie post-punk act for which I was waiting. Now I suspect that many of you actually already know this band (particularly if you watch Game of Thrones), but I just discovered this band and considering they're easily one of the best acts I've discovered in a long time, I want to talk about them at length. Make no mistake, considering my luck approaching indie acts this year, I was more than a little surprised by how incredibly solid The National was, particularly when placed in competition with their lesser contemporaries, and they pushed a lot of important buttons for me.

For starters, the lyrics were audible and high enough in the mix to make out, and occasionally there was some real emotive poetry hidden behind the clever turns of phrase. I wouldn't quite say it's as descriptive or lurid as that of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but it's not trying to be either. The National is very much a 'mature' act, and like Deep Purple from earlier this year, they transform that maturity into a real strength that adds poignance to their lyrics. You can tell through the placement of the vocals that The National began as an alternative country act, and the importance placed on lyrics and the 'older' subject matter comes through here as well. More importantly, The National are smart enough to frame their songs intelligently, making sure that if their song's narrator could be interpreted as an asshole or a prick or a loser, he's appropriately positioned in that regard, supported by both lyrics and instrumentation. And considering how many songs The National writes about sad-sack losers who have screwed up their lives, they've nailed the formula down to a tee.

But what I find significantly more interesting with The National comes through on the other underlying theme of the majority of their work: upper class Americana, and the existential ennui that comes with it. Admittedly, The National do a very solid job speaking to all demographics, but with the highly literate songwriting and richer instrumentation, it's very clear they're targeting a certain college-aged yuppie hipster group within popular culture. And as with before, it comes back to the framing for why this works, both skewering the nastier elements of these subcultures (racism, classism, misogyny, antiquated value systems, etc.) and still writing music for the more perceptive of the audience to find the distinct sadness in said characters. In comparison to Vampire Weekend (who treat their privilege like a family heirloom only they are allowed to play with), The National are more blunt and don't hesitate to cast their narrators as just as sad, pathetic, desperate, and lonely as anyone else, and it's a testament to their excellent instrumentation that you're actually able to sympathize instead of scoff with derision at 'white people problems'.

All of that being said, I do have a few issues with The National. The band has occasionally recycled instrumental themes (which can get exasperating) and musical dynamics, which can lead to some songs running together. And as often as Matt Berninger has been compared to Nick Cave for his delivery and uncompromising framing, I'd argue he doesn't quite have the same emotional range in his voice that Cave does. Granted, he pulls off depressed and morose very well, but anger still occasionally seems like a foreign emotion to Berninger and that can get frustrating. On top of all of that, with similar thematic elements running through their previous five albums, it would be nice to see them switch up the formula, go for something darker or in a different vein entirely. Otherwise, it just feels like they lack imagination.

So, what do I think of their newest album, Trouble Will Find Me?