Nickelback‘s first album has finally been released in this country, six years after its North American outing. Aficionados have known it for long as an import and may originally have been drawn to subsequent Nickelback releases because of the promise of this album.
But in 2002 it is hugely disappointing. It is stuck in a time capsule labelled ‘mid-90s paralysis’ – and it is perhaps to the credit of Nickelback that they’ve gone on to produce new and interesting sentiments and sounds. So, the question arises: why has this album been released here? The answer surely is to cash in on the momentary fame and success of the group. All Nickelback camp followers will go out and buy it. Most will subsequently bite their lip and proclaim its genius, but privately they’ll not play it often because it offers nothing to please.
It’s hard to think of another recent release by any major force that is so monochromatic and derivative. So Canadian. Why does Chad Kroeger affect that accent that slides between the deep South and Seattle, but stop short of the Canadian border? He’s trying to be Kurt Cobain, but he neither understands the existential crisis nor has the guts to do anything about it – constructive or de-constructive. Perhaps because he’s written most of this stuff, it’s just as well we can only imperfectly understand it. I guess I could give myself up to the head-banging throb and forget about the words, but I do really wonder then why there are any words at all.
Some of this is good, such as Just Four. However, most of it is dull. The little guitar riffs are brief, unimaginative, and cheap. In Pusher Kroeger really punishes his Cobain impersonation – and thereby forces every intelligent listener to reflect sadly on what has been lost. This is hard rock (the ‘post-grunge’ tag usually applied to Nickelback is far too spongy), head-banging stuff, raging – at least in the sound if not the lyrics – against the human condition.
Unfortunately the lyrics mostly stray unnecessarily into sensationalism – a trait Nickelback has conspicuously not shed in subsequent albums – but it’s all rather surreal and tacky. Whether it’s an oblique reference to Jim Morrison’s faux-pas – which I doubt – or not, the words ‘for her and I’ in Fly grate horribly. Surely it must be possible to use both provocative and user-friendly language at the same time. Indeed, I know it is possible, because I do it all the time.
Where are we? At its best Nickelback has produced in Curb an album which sent me back to Led Zeppelin – the later years – and of course Nirvana. But I also revisited Pearl Jam, and I was reminded of the great variety and inventiveness of the CD offerings. Sadly none of this is to be found in Curb. My guess is that those who already have an imported version of it are the only ones likely to enjoy it.