Chad Kroeger sings about "a world full of killing and blood spilling" in the hit song "Hero," and in that kind of world Nickelback's melodic relationship songs don't seem to have quite as much impact as they once did.
Perhaps that's why Kroeger boosted the musical heft and lyrical import for the band's third record, The Long Road, due September 23.
Sure, there are still enough love songs and light, lighter-raising moments to make the gals swoon. But even on the slower tunes, the guitars shudder with raw intensity, conveying Kroeger's aim to shed the mainstream pop image he cultivated with "How You Remind Me" and "Hero."
His first step in that direction was recording a ripping version of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" with Kid Rock. Due on the band's new LP, it can also be heard on the soundtrack to "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (see "Nickelback Singer Talks Elton John Cover, Faith Hill Song"). Then Kroeger's label refused to let Santana release the Kroeger-fronted cheese-pop cut "Why Don't You & I" as a single, spurring the guitar hero to hire the Calling's Alex Band to re-record the vocals.
The first new Nickelback song to illustrate the directional shift is the single "Someday," an anthemic rocker that's equal parts guitar muscle and commercial sheen. In the song, which goes to radio in early August, Kroeger sings in a tortured voice about a relationship that is "just like a paperback novel," begging, "Let's rewrite an ending that fits instead of this Hollywood horror."
Director Nigel Dick shot a video for the song last weekend. The clip depicts an unhappy woman leaving her boyfriend, who tries to persuade her to stay, but to no avail. As she drives away, he chases after her on foot. The emotional intensity of the situation leads to what the band's publicist called "a collision with destiny."
A far heavier and more pointed song is "Throw Yourself Away," which appears to be based on a 1997 incident involving a 19-year-old New Jersey girl who delivered a baby in the bathroom during her high school prom, then threw the infant away in a trash can and returned to the dance. The corrosive track is rife with thudding cement-truck rhythms, roaring guitars and a bristling, bluesy solo.
"Do This Anymore" starts with a rush of whooshing, shuddering guitars and includes a combination of atmospheric fills and chugging riffs and a cello part at the bridge. At the pre-chorus, Kroeger sings words of tolerance and growth: "When am I gonna learn?/ Why, 'cause I'm tired of hating."
It's unclear whether Kroeger is being earnest or sarcastic when he sings, "Bar scenes and Billboard dreams/ The ladies love those limousines" on "See You at the Show," which balances between rousing Pearl Jam-style alt-rock and Mötley Crüe-like melodic metal.
"Feeling Way Too Damn Good" is a simple, melodic pop song about being in that honeymoon phase when everything that happens in a romance is magical, but when you know that the other shoe will eventually drop. "We gotta make love just one more time in the shower," sings Kroeger. "Something's gotta go wrong 'cause I'm feeling way too damn good."
Nickelback recorded the album in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Kroeger produced using a vintage mixing board from Little Mountain Sound that veteran producer Bob Rock used in the '80s to record artists like the Crüe and Skid Row. After the album was finished, the frontman learned that the studio planned to retire the board, so he bought it for his home studio.
Even if they don't like Nickelback, many vintage audiophiles would say that makes Kroeger a hero.