Is This It, OK Computer, In Rainbows, Funeral, Modern Vampires of the City — all modern classics in today’s messy “rock” genre. But there is one album frequently missing from these lists — something so necessary, so moving, so carefully constructed that I shouldn’t even have to mention its name (but I will): Nickelback’s Dark Horse.
Everything about this album screams nuance and genius. Take the album art, which acts as an intimate window into the world we’re about to jump into: a steel belt buckle. It’s this kind of beaming strength and fortitude that propels Nickelback’s career highlight above even the most accomplished of bands. While Nirvana carried the grunge era with impressive instrumentation and subtle lyrics, Nickelback’s Dark Horse dominates a genre that’s even better — post-grunge. The album finds the band eschewing those pompous, pretentious styles that critics love so much for what the world really wants to hear: just four good-ol’ white boys from Canada, speaking to the good-ol’ white boys of the world. While most music writers and audiophiles might see their guitar skills as questionable, their lyrics as shallow and their existence as purposeless, Nickelback’s fans know something those high-minded fucks don’t. What that is, though, is more mysterious and cryptic than even the band itself.
I’ll admit, I had some difficulty listening to the album in its entirety. I started to feel a bit queasy by the third track, “Gotta Be Somebody.” But I’m sure that was just the norovirus setting in from the dining hall food I’d consumed a few hours before, and certainly not the result of Chad Kroeger’s perpetually distressed vocals, which wrap listeners like a blanket of hearty, countryside soil. What I did know, though, from the few tracks my feeble body was able to handle, was that I was listening to the unabridged soul of rock — nay, music as a whole.
The band’s decision to open with “Something in Your Mouth” is a complex one, and I’m still unraveling its meaning. Kroeger proclaims the damsel in this story is “so much cuter with something in (her) mouth.” My initial thought was that the song was encouraging the woman to utter her feelings confidently, without the interference of a man — a message of feminist empowerment, if you will. Follow-up lyric “in the spotlight all night dissing everyone” seems to support this analysis.
My point of confusion came when I heard Kroeger state that the woman will “tease them all by sucking on [her] thumb.” In certain cultures, thumb-sucking is a sign of disrespect, so perhaps he’s speaking both to the woman’s multicultural heritage and her independence. For North Americans, though, thumb-sucking alludes to childhood, so it’s not inconceivable to think that Kroeger is hinting at a deeper story altogether here, one that centers on the adolescent experience of this woman. Such complexities seethe throughout Dark Horse.
Attempting to pin down highlights on this album is bound to be a fruitless endeavor — they’re all highlights. Listeners might find it difficult to decipher one track from another, but that simply speaks to the consistency and confidence that Nickelback has with their sound. It warrants no alteration or experimentation. Why add confusion to perfection?
Nickelback’s most compelling skill, though, is their ability to create a community through the medium of music. There are few places in the world like a Nickelback concert, where a 40-year-old-plus, white, suburban dad can find so many other people just like him. That unifying sameness is a powerful tool, and one that Nickelback should not — and does not — take lightly. Dark Horse is their gift to the world, sure, but even more so it’s a love letter to Nickelback’s fan base. Reverence to followers is a necessity, and one that many bands fail to account for. Nickelback makes no such mistake.
Some of those previously mentioned pompous critic fucks have mistakenly accused Nickelback of creating nothing more than reductive, cliché hard rock music. But I ask: could the five million people who purchased Dark Horse have all been misguided? When have millions of people ever been misguided? That’s right: never.