TORONTO — Nickelback isn't losing any sleep over their rock legacy these days.
Once derided by some music fans as being among the most-hated bands of all time, the Alberta act has survived many sucker punches from critics and the din of negativity from naysayers on social media.
But with an upcoming Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction, a headlining spot at the Boots and Hearts festival next summer, and a brand new studio album out this month, the conversation around Nickelback is shifting from a point of ridicule to one that recognizes their contributions to pop culture.
Several years ago, a clip from their "Photograph" music video featuring lead singer Chad Kroeger gripping a picture frame became one of the internet's favourite memes. While the image was used to at times mock Nickelback, it also made them omnipresent in a new corner of online conversation.
And streaming data shows that no matter how much people knock them, they're still listening to Nickelback's hits enough to rank them among the top 500 artists on Spotify.
Asked about the divide between the hate and the plays, guitarist Ryan Peake offers a balanced take.
"We don’t think about that," he insisted in a recent interview. "There's always room for more listeners, for us. We’re happy to see the numbers."
"Get Rollin'," their first full-length album in five years, suggests Nickelback might be thinking a little deeper than they let on.
The record effectively resets the band's sound to its familiar state after a few unusual turns that saw them collaborate with rapper Flo Rida in 2014 and a few years later release an album that some received as a soggy criticism of politics in the Donald Trump presidency.
Instead of taking unpredictable detours, "Get Rollin'" is a throwback to Nickelback's glory days of the early aughts when they were inescapable on the radio and the punchline of music snobs.
Roaring album opener “San Quentin,” inspired by a real-life prison warden, could’ve been recorded by Metallica a couple of decades ago, while “Those Days” features Kroeger performing what's effectively a sequel to "Photograph" where he runs off a list of generation X cultural touchstones, from date nights watching “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to punching in *69 on a landline.
Smack in the middle of the album there's the melodic, mid-tempo rock ballad “Tidal Wave," which opens with the sound of shoreline waves as Kroeger delivers verse after verse of aquatic metaphors. He compares love to surfing a disastrous force of nature, or as he describes it in the interview, a romance that’s “dangerously exciting, but we all know how it’s going to end.”
“Tidal Wave” is as catchy as it is goofy, leaving it up to the listener to decide whether the band is in on the joke. Other tracks titled “Skinny Little Missy” and “Steel Still Rusts” suggest maybe they are.
Taken as a whole, "Get Rollin'" could be the closest Nickelback ever comes to a concept album, if you accept that its theme is built around a few buddies in their 40s cracking open beers to reflect on the good old days.
But Peake and Kroeger are quick to stamp down any suggestion Nickelback came to the table with a cohesive idea for the project, saying their creative process is too scattered.
“We’d make a really terrible concept album,” Peake said.
Even if Nickelback doesn’t co-sign the theory of a grander vision, it’s clear they’ve put some thought into recalculating their direction after 2017 album "Feed the Machine" was met with a tepid response from listeners and critics.
Released during the Trump presidency, the album's cover showed a faceless autocrat standing before an adoring crowd with robotic wires tethered to his back, which some took as a half-hearted attempt at a political statement that never played out beyond the title track.
Peake disputes the notion that Nickelback was ever trying to skewer Trump in the first place.
“It’s like people looking at clouds in the sky,” he said of drawing any sort of meaning from the concept.
“Some people just need to see something. I get that.”
However they meant it to be received, "Feed the Machine" found mixed success. While it marked Nickelback's highest chart debut in the United Kingdom, it was less popular in the United States, slumping to their lowest first-week sales since their breakthrough “Silver Side Up” in 2001.
"I think at that point in time, politics was so blurred with showbiz that it was hard to discern what was what for a while," Kroeger said. "And it felt like that was the thing that we all wanted to say: For better or for worse, regardless of whatever side you’re on, it doesn’t matter, because we don’t like to alienate."
They don’t write songs "for the left or the right," Kroeger added.
“We make songs for human beings and we’re all part of that race, I’d like to think.”
The topic strikes up a debate between the two bandmates as they consider the merits of political commentary in rock music.
“It’s really selfish when a band or artist wants to tell you so aggressively where they stand," Kroeger suggested.
"Music is supposed to be about enjoyment or escapism. It’s not supposed to be—"
“Well, Bob Dylan,” Peake counters.
“Yeah. Someone else,” Kroeger adds. “We don’t have that type of agenda. Our agenda is to go in, make music we enjoy, and hopefully our fans enjoy .... That’s it, really.”
"Get Rollin'" keeps it as simple as that.
All 11 tracks sound like they're ready to be released as singles, blasted on a car stereo or belted out at a live show.
Peake hopes that will be enough to draw audiences back when Nickelback announces plans for a major tour in the near future. Their summer dates will include the stop at Boots and Hearts in Oro-Medonte, Ont., on Aug. 11.
Until then, he's keeping his expectations in check.
"The climate around our band name changes back and forth," he said.
"The noise of social media, the noise of whatever is in the news at the time, popular opinion, blah, blah, blah."
He added: "But there’s a lot of unabashed enjoyment of the music, which is why we’re here .... We want people to come and sing the songs. We want them to sing to us and to each other. That’s the most fun."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.
David Friend, The Canadian Press