’s Dark Horse
seeks to shake up the band’s very successful commercial formula with the inclusion of super-producer Mutt Lange (Def Leppard
, ex-wife Shania Twain
) behind the boards. The result is a Nickelback album that downplays some of the group’s more irritating sonic tics while adding a few new twists to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, anyone who’s been resistant to Nickelback up to this point will still balk at Dark Horse
and its over-reliance on ham-fisted rock songs about bad girls.
A Band for the Everyman
Nickelback, led by frontman Chad Kroeger, have never won the hearts of critics, but it’s easy to understand their appeal. On multi-platinum albums like The Long Road and All the Right Reasons, the Canadian group delivered vaguely edgy hard rock that focused on everyman sentiments, singing about common situations in emphatically emotional ways. The band’s problem, though, is that between Kroeger’s heavy-handed vocals and his lowest-common-denominator songs, the group’s material lacks nuance or artfulness – their hits knock you over the head and just keep on pounding until you can’t take anymore. Dark Horse is very much cut from the same cloth as earlier Nickelback records, as if Kroeger and his crew based most of their creative decisions on constructing perfectly Nickelback-sounding songs.
New Producer Adds New Sonic Tricks
feels very familiar, but producer Mutt Lange at least improves the band’s sonic sheen some. The group’s post-grunge
template remains intact, but Lange’s highly processed sound gives Nickelback a pop sleekness that helps undercut their usual macho bluster. The lead single “Gotta Be Somebody” is Dark Horse
’s best example of this – Kroeger’s earnest romantic nonsense feels livelier paired up with Lange’s synthesized guitars. Nobody would confuse “Gotta Be Somebody” for a dance track, but at least it recasts Nickelback’s gimmicks in a new light. There’s no denying that Kroeger has a knack for writing solidly commercial songs, but their generic qualities make them so forgettable. Lange helps some in that regard, highlighting Kroeger’s hooks and sweetening them.
Let's Talk About Sex ... Actually, Let's Not
Lange can only do so much, however, and Nickelback’s fundamental limitations weigh down Dark Horse. Specifically, the group’s inability to write convincing sex songs is a huge problem. Interestingly, many of the artists Lange has worked with in the past have been able to turn a fascination with sex into great music, whether it be AC/DC’s inspired naughty-girl anthems or Shania Twain’s flirty, fun pop tunes. Kroeger can’t go to either extreme, instead writing trite tales about gold diggers, strippers and all-night hookups that huff and puff without generating much spark. Plus, Kroeger’s groan-inducing puns can be downright embarrassing, like in the chorus for “Something in Your Mouth,” which turns out to be a lame innuendo for something I can’t mention in a family-friendly publication. Kroeger talks a lot about sex, but he never captures the dirty thrill of it. Honestly, he seems to be just going through the motions.
Nickelback's 'Dark Horse' - Bottom Line
Nickelback’s fans will be happy with Dark Horse
since there are enough hard rock songs that recall the band’s earlier hits. But too few of these tracks suggest much personality behind the formula. Dark Horse
sounds like Nickelback trying to make a Nickelback album. They succeeded in their mission, but it’s too bad they didn’t try to raise the bar just a little.
Best Dark Horse Tracks:
“Gotta Be Somebody” (Purchase/Download
“Burn It to the Ground” (Purchase/Download
“I’d Come for You” (Purchase/Download
Release date – November 18, 2008