Let’s get one thing straight: Nickelback are bad. It doesn’t matter what tangible measures you use to gauge their talent, the end result is the same- unless, of course, you value commercial success above and beyond anything else. In which case, I’d like you to stop reading now (I’m joking- please read, I’m desperate for the attention!). On the other hand, AC/DC (it’s a shame we can’t replicate the lightning bolt in type form) are regarded as rock legends, instrumental in the mainstream recognition of heavy metal. They too have sold unbelievable amounts of music, yet retain their musical credibility for their originality.
But is there really such a gap between these two bands? Are Nickelback a modern incarnation of AC/DC; are AC/DC perhaps a devolutionary Nickleback? As a long-time Acca Dacca basher (since when was a nickname deemed worthy if it was longer than the original name?), I would argue that the bands are, in essence, one and the same. Here’s why.
The musical origins of both bands remain murky, mysteries wrapped inside enigmas (translation: I don’t know how they started, and frankly don’t care). But this I can be sure of: their names, whilst semi-memorable, were derived from some of the most anti-rock activities ever. The name AC/DC? Depending on which story you believe, they got it from either a vacuum cleaner or a sewing machine. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, how can the name of such a band be in the palm of some fool’s hand? What kind of extenuating circumstances causes the heaviest rock band ever (at the time) to feel that a brand name of a domestic appliance would accurately convey their MO?
Similarly, Nickelback supposedly got their name from a band member’s stint at Starbucks; when a customer paid for a coffee, he’d give them their change with “and here’s your nickel back!” I can’t say that I expected too much more from them, but once again, isn’t this a really, really dumb name? It’s memorable, I’ll give them that; though hepatitis-memorable isn’t the kind of memorable anyone wants (exception: Tommy Lee).
Another aspect of Nickelback that you probably didn’t know or care about is that they have a pair of brothers in the band: Chad and Mike Kroeger. And being a true blue Aussie (i.e. drinking an ice-cold stubbie as you simultaneously read this and check out your ute’s siiiiiick V8 engine), I’d assume that you knew about the Angus/ Malcolm Young parallel that exists in the AC/DC universe. So what, you say. Well, I know that including your younger brother in your jamming sessions is a sure-fire way to get in Mum’s good books, but doesn’t it stymie your musical potential as a band? I mean, all the greats- Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin etc- they mightn’t have got along famously on a personal level, but when it came to music, they were kindred spirits. Now how can that happen when two of your guys are continually trying to outdo each other and argue over who gets the top bunk? I don’t care what anyone says; brotherly competitiveness cannot be overcome, and thus is detrimental to a band’s progress.
An undeniable fact about Nickelback is that basically all of their music sounds the same. Now it’s granted that I’ve never actually listened to their entire discography, but the ones I’ve heard, the ones everyone’s heard, are effectively carbon copies in so many respects that it isn’t even funny. (Okay, maybe it is a little funny.) Each song starts off with some heavily distorted guitar playing a few basic chords, then follows the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge pattern, culminating with a rousing chorus taking the place of the proverbial icing on the cake. Only thing is, the icing’s made of shit.
But here’s the thing: AC/DC’s songs? They all pretty much follow the same format. A few months ago, when I actually had a job, I was regularly subjected to the horrors of commercial radio for 12 hours at a time. Generally, there would be a gross overabundance of mega-hits in their prime, mega-hits on the decline, and mega-hits from the 80’s and 70’s. (Actually, the songs from the 80’s weren’t mega-hits as much as they were just randomly selected songs to take the baby boomers back to a younger, skinnier version of themselves. And since every station is run by baby boomers, these songs were played basically non-stop.) Occasionally there would be a half-decent Pearl Jam or Bob Dylan track played, but that’s beside the point. I discovered during this time that AC/DC were played incessantly, as if there were some kind of local content rule which required at least ten of their songs be heard each day. So when they released a new album last year, the lead single was obviously played non-stop. But my first thought upon hearing it? “Wow, haven’t heard this one in a while!”
The point of this: their songs are horrifically repetitive.
So if Nickelback are essentially the evolutionary AC/DC, how did they come to be so maligned? If you say AC/DC were the innovators of hard rock, I can argue that Nickelback established kid-friendly rock (apologies to Matchbox Twenty). Sure, the latter mightn’t hold much esteem in the music canon, but surely Chad Kroeger and co. deserve some respect for squeezing every single inch of their musical talent and making high-selling, tremendously crappy records.
My theory is that because AC/DC made it big in America, we have placed them on a pedestal- a totally undeserved accolade seeing as Nickelback are Canadian, and their success in the USA is as unlikely as Mugabe and Tsvangirai having Christmas lunch together. Since America is a notoriously self-absorbed country on the whole, to break into its market either requires impressive musical talent, a stupid gimmick, or a combination of both. AC/DC fell into the third category- as well as being a great guitarist, Angus Young brought back the school uniform look, then kept on wearing it for the next 30 years, even though it was as out of fashion as Hammerpants (girls, they’re ridiculous!). They also benefited from the Kurt Cobain corollary- that when the frontman of the band dies, their musical output becomes ten times more appreciated- especially when the band releases their defining album just 5 months later. Actually, there is a strange phenomena relating to this within AC/DC; whenever you ask someone who the singer of AC/DC is/was, more often than not they’ll say Bon Scott. Um, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but he was only with the band for about 5 years, they hardly had any hits with him, and they only really took off when Brian Johnston took over on vocals; it really seems like an egregious overstatement to say Bon was ‘the heart and soul’ of a band that has continued to prosper well after he left them.
Back to the point. Since we fancy our country as a mini-America, AC/DC’s acceptance into their musical culture has massively inflated their importance, much like Jet when they inexplicably achieved the same. But Nickelback’s popularity has led to backlash and ridicule, highlighted by Chad Kroeger’s JFK-style assassination (no, this didn’t happen- just checking if you’re still reading). Regardless, as long as both bands continue to make music, I will continue to ignore commercial radio completely. And could someone please make Rob Thomas mute? Thankyou.