IF I HAD A MILLION DONUTS
It’s time that folks give Nickelback
One of the premier global music acts of our time, the Canadian quartet remains an universal punching bag; pilloried for its mega popularity; and for jump-starting fans’ bloodstreams with mega doses of adrenaline.
Many musicians today spill their beer at the mention of Nickelback’s name.
They regard these post-grunge heavyweights as a sinister force.
Last year, the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney sniffed to Rolling Stone magazine that, “Rock ‘n’ roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world.”
In a dead-on, chisel-it-on-my-tombstone retort against detractors, Nickelback currently kick off shows on its global tour with the anthem-styled “This Means War” containing the lyrical message, “Say anything you want / But talk will get you nowhere,” as gargantuan balls of flames erupt from behind members onstage.
Such trench warfare by Nickelback is waged not against women and kids, but against earnest music journalists; internet-blogging bomb-throwers; and those music aficionados who try to sing along with Feist.
Meanwhile, critics are wholly divided over the band’s current tour with concerts featuring a levitating stage, band members riding conveyer belts, and all-flame-and-no-shame pyrotechnics.
“Nickelback gives predictably boring performance in Calgary” was the predictably lame headline of Mike Bell’s Calgary Herald review
of the band’s May 16th, 2012 show at the Saddledome.
But, according to Bell at the top of the review, there was already blood in the water.
“Full disclosure: the Calgary Herald was not accredited for Wednesday night’s show at the Saddledome by Hanna rock act Nickelback because the band has issues with things that have been written in the past by myself.”
Next Bell groused, “The thinking has been explained as, in a nutshell, thus: We know he hates us, why should we give him tickets to come and bag on us, especially in our own backyard?
“Its assessment of the situation was the correct one. It tried to save us both the trouble, and I see and appreciate it now,” wrote Bell before concluding, “Instead, it’s just boring. Garish. But boring.”
The prior evening, the Edmonton Journal’s Sandra Sperounes had a far better time partying with Nickelback at Rexall Place. Under the headline---“Nickelback big, loud - and fun”---she wrote
that, “Eight-year-old boys to 80-year-old grandmothers partied with the Hanna natives, and their pals at Rexall Place.
“For more than four hours, the guitars were a-chug-chug-chugging — along with fans and their pints of beers — as Alberta’s superheroes saved us from flaky indie rock, perhaps attacking our livers and eardrums in the process. Think of Nickelback’s (almost) sold-out show as the musical equivalent of Marvel’s Avengers — with Hulk-size riffs, Iron Man-like visual effects, and Thor-like hair. Big, loud, ridiculous and fun.”
Among their fans, Nickelback’s name evokes thundering tributes that go far beyond the customary comments made about most rock bands.
What Nickelback has achieved has come from evaluating, and understanding mainstream rock and roll as well as its audience.
The appeal of Nickelback’s music, members know, lies in the fact that much of their audience wants to party.
You hear stripped-down rock and roll songs like "Never Again,” "How You Remind Me." "Someday,” "Figured You Out,” "Savin' Me,” "Far Away,” "If Everyone Cared,” and "Rockstar" once, and they stick with you.
And, it is very, very good party music.
Nickelback's subdued side is evident in such charming ballads as "Far Away" and "Photograph” or when guitarist Ryan Peake gets behind a piano for "Lullaby” from the most recent album.
To the consternation of its critics, Nickelback has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide to date.
Their last five albums debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart. Its latest studio album "Here and Now" debuted at # 2, and topped the Canadian album chart.
Since 2001, Nickelback has grossed $177.6 million (U.S.), and sold over 4 million tickets to about 400 shows, according to Billboard Boxscore. As Billboard’s Ray Waddell wrote in January 13, 2012. “Music snobs may roll their eyes, but the public has voted: This band defines consistency at the box office.”
Nickelback is spending the next two years on the road supporting "Here and Now." The band will play throughout North America until July; followed by European dates; and then do dates in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and S.W. Asia before the year’s end.
Dates in South America, and South Africa are penciled in for 2013 along with further touring in North America, and Europe.
On the strength of its 2005 album “All the Right Reasons”---buoyed by 7 multi-format hit singles--selling 10 million copies worldwide; while having a 156-week run on the Billboard 200 chart (the longest run by any act in 11 years), Nickelback landed a three-album/three tour deal with Live Nation In 2008
Under the deal estimated to potentially be worth between $50-$70 million, Live Nation acquired 12 separate artist rights. These include touring, tour sponsorship, tour merchandise, tour VIP/travel packages, secondary ticketing, recorded music, clothing, licensing and other retail merchandise, non-tour sponsorship and endorsements, DVD and broadcast rights, fan club, web site and literary rights.
Nickelback joined Madonna, Jay-Z, and Shakira in Live Nation’s stable of artists with long-term, comprehensive deal packages. U2 has a deal that includes many of the same features, but does not include its recordings.
Overlooked is that Nickelback’s success story is an essential staple of Canada’s sweaty, commercial rock music legacy.
Pictured: Larry LeBlanc with the Nickelback: Hanna, Alberta's post-grunge juggernauts
Four decades ago, Bachman-Turner Overdrive kick-started Canada’s rock era. Like Nickelback, they had their guitars revved up; and they swept away all that prissy Canadian pop fluff that peppered Canadian music before them.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive conquered the airways throughout North America with “Let It Ride,” “Takin' Care Of Business,” “Roll On Down The Highway,” and “You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet”; but, like Nickelback, was uniformly damned by most music journalists at the time.
Among the Canuck rockers that followed in Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s footsteps were: Rush, Max Webster, Triumph, Harlequin, Saga, Honeymoon Suite, Coney Hatch, Mahogany Rush, Anvil, Platinum Blonde, Haywire, Toronto, Harem Scarem, Goddo, Headpins, Lee Aaron, Bif Naked, Helix, I Mother Earth, the Tragically Hip, and the Tea Party.
In the ‘80s, following the successes of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Trooper, Loverboy, and Bryan Adams from the city, Vancouver briefly became the world epicenter of mainstream rock.
The surge revved up in 1987 after Bon Jovi chose producer Bruce Fairbairn and engineer Bob Rock to record “Slippery When Wet” at Little Mountain Sound. The album sold 13 million copies. The same year, Aerosmith entered Little Mountain, and roared out with “Permanent Vacation.” Two years later, the Fairbairn/Rock collaboration delivered Bon Jovi’s 8 million seller,” New Jersey.”
In the 1990s, Fairbairn produced Aerosmith, Motley Crue, and AC/DC; while Rock handled productions for Motley Crue, Metallica, and Bon Jovi.
Nickelback arrived on the scene in the early ‘90s as the recording industry was going through a long overdue period of transition; and while there was a disruptive change in music culture that many mainstream rock fans weren’t willing to embrace.
As alternative music and indie rock influenced a generation, and then as mainstream pop staged a major comeback, mainstream rock went into sharp decline. By 2000, most major labels were pretty much out of the mainstream rock business, except for a handful of well-established acts signed.
Today, mainstream rock is alive and well---certainly in Canada where Billy Talent, Hedley, Theory of a Deadman, Simple Plan, Finger Eleven, and Three Days Grace and others have emerged over the past decade.
Nickelback will continue to draw derisive cat-calls; but, as the music industry continues to teem with newcomers who aren’t quite yet serious musical vehicles, the band will roar and ramble for many years to come.
Like Bachman-Turner Overdrive and so many other bands from yesteryear, their music will be re-assessed…. eventually.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world.
Legendary BBC2 DJ/historian Bob Harris has described him as "the glue that holds the Canadian music industry together."
Senior editor of CelebrityAccess since 2008, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007, and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.
He is co-author of the 2011 book,” Music From Far And Wide” chronicling the growth of Canada’s pop music scene.
Music Canada Editor: Are you a Nickelback fan? Do you think Larry's comparasion to Bachman-Turner Overdrive is accurate? Let us know in the comments!