Title: Feed the Machine
Genre: Hard Rock
Release Date: June 16, 2017
Length: 43 min.
Producers: Nickelback, Chris Baseford
Personnel: Chad Kroeger (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ryan Peake (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Mike Kroeger (bass guitar), Daniel Adair (drums, backing vocals)
Special Guest: Nuno Bettencourt (lead guitar on “For the River”)
The pop, rock, and metal worlds hate on a lot of bands and artists. Limp Bizkit, Dave Matthews, Train, Blink 182, Kid Rock, Matchbox Twenty, Green Day, Muse, Five Finger Death Punch, Coldplay, KISS, Metallica, Weezer. . . The list goes on. Yet the one thing we can come together on, the one band we can all agree to hate is:
Why? Because Nickelback has consistently produced music that is bland, lazy, generic, boring, complacent, insignificant, unremarkable, and forgettable. Starting with Silver Side Up, Nickelback has purposefully sat out to make every song an amalgamation of what gets popular on rock radio and nothing more. They make songs to appeal to the largest group of people possible. They raid the dumpsters of as many popular artists as possible in the worlds of hard rock, grunge, pop rock, alt rock, alt metal, heavy metal, and nu metal. Then they distill all that down into its most uninspired, familiar elements.
With very few exceptions, this contributes, to the music world, songs either so forgettable that you can’t remember them after the next track in the playlist or so terrible and offensive, either in content or in mindlessness, that you can only laugh out loud at the cringiness of it all. They sway back and forth between “Dad Rock” and, as Rocked says, “Drunk Mom Rock.” But it wasn’t always that way.
Nickelback’s 1996 debut, Curb, highlighted a clear, rising talent, and their 1999 sophomore effort, The State, improved on that. Neither are great albums, but both are full of grungey goodness, and there in the late ’90s, many tapped-in rock fans began to get excited for this new group, whose sound was mostly grunge with a little punk and nu metal mixed in. I’d compare them favorably to the mid-to-late ’90s output of such bands as Pearl Jam, Green Day, Korn, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, and Sepultura.
Then, in 2001, Silver Side Up happened. Around that time, Chad said, “I started studying . . . everything sonically, everything lyrically, everything musically, chord structure. I would dissect every single song that I would hear on the radio or every song that had ever done well on a chart, and I would say, ‘Why did this do well?'”
That album wasn’t necessarily trash, but afterwards, for five records, Kroeger and Co. churned out single after single, and album after album, of music off an assembly line, manufactured not for maximum creativity but for maximum momentary radio playability. Usually, each album basically contained only three basic song types: arena rock style anthems, rock ballads, and country/soft rock fusions. And with No Fixed Address, their 2014 sixth effort, they did the exact same thing but mixed with EDM and such. To keep up with the kids these days, I guess. Ugh. Oh, yeah. And one of the songs features Flo Rida. . .
However, with new album Feed the Machine coming out here in 2017, it seemed, if rumors were to be believed, that Nickelback was going to try to evolve and grow as a band, that they wanted, with this new album, to make something for themselves, not just to sell songs, that this would be their heaviest album yet, a promise of new, fresh things. So did they deliver?
The short answer is . . . actually . . . kinda!
Surprised? Me too! Look, when I heard that Nickelback had a new album out, I wanted to review it so I could have something to mock. But I just can’t fully hate Feed the Machine, because it is, without a doubt, Nickelback’s best album since The State. It does have some heavy moments, it does have some memorable musicianship, and the guitar and bass sound good with some nice guitar licks and solos coming from Peake, and there’s some loud drumming coming from Adair. The band as a whole sounds bigger and heavier than usual. I’m not sure it’s their heaviest album, but I am willing to say Feed the Machine is, more or less, halfway decent.
The album opening title track is a nice, heavy, hard rock/metal fusion intro to the album, reminiscent of Disturbed. It also contains a solid base line, hard drums, and a relevant – if pretty broad – political statement that also sort of reminds me of Metallica’s “Spit Out the Bone” from last year.
“Coin for the Ferryman” continues down the Disturbed road, has a cool mythological tie-in, and is heavy, though it disappointingly doesn’t develop into much lyrically, contenting itself with the awkward teen rebellion themes that Kroeger loves to revisit. But the drums are even heavier than on “Feed the Machine,” and Peake contributes a nice, little solo.
“Song on Fire” kind of takes a turn too far backwards and sounds like a modern country song, except for the drums, though they are also suddenly tamed down but still large. I guess you could call this one a Bon Jovi reject.
“Must Be Nice” swings back to rock and the bass especially returns. But the lyrics are strange, tasteless perversions of fairytale rhymes. At least Chad isn’t talking about being a stalker like he has in the past. There’s a decent guitar solo in there but also unnecessarily distorted vocals.
“After the Rain” has a blues rock, garage rock, fuzzed-out rhythm section in the guitars and bass, and the verse follows suit, but the chorus and bridge devolve into U2-lite pop rock.
“For the River” is a slightly better version of usual Nickelback fare with a little of their first two albums’ sounds somewhere in there. And, once again, Peake saves the song with another decent solo, and Adair’s snare beats add some flavor. Honestly, though, the lyrics and structure make it seem like another quasi-country song.
“Home” is, well, another kind of typical Nickelback ballad. Also kind of country for the third time. But the guitar work is less interesting this time.
“The Betrayal – Act III” has an acoustic intro that sounds like a page torn from Kirk Hammett’s notebook and has some winds in it too that, for some reason, remind me of Bryan Adam’s performance of “When You Love Someone” on Unplugged. It’s a better constructed song than Nickelback has produced in a while, and it even has some hints of prog rock in it. But the title only makes you wonder where Acts One and Two are. . .
“Silent Majority” is actually a solid rock tune with another slightly vague political message, and the lyrics aren’t too bad, though they are certainly much less vague than the song’s theme. Subtlety certainly isn’t Kroeger’s strong suit.
“Every Time We’re Together” is the fourth country sounding song on this album, but it is, for Nickelback, sort of decent, I guess.
“Betrayal – Act I” Ok, here’s Act One. Where’s Act Two, now? I guess we’ll never know. Overlooking that, this is an excellent outro for Feed the Machine, and – coupled with Act Three – this produces some unusually skilled songwriting and performing for the band. And this one is an instrumental, another Nickelback first. It has that proggy sound, too, and sounds influenced by Rush, Segovia, Morricone, and Kansas. “Betrayal – Act I” also loops the end of the album back to the beginning, so you should listen to the album on one repeat just to hear it. It’s kind of neat.
So that’s the songs. I like five of the eleven. And those, I think, are legitimately good, some of the best material Nickelback has released, though, of course, that’s not saying much. There’s still trash in there, six tracks of it, more or less, I’d say. But it does seem less offensive than the usual Nickelback drivel, either because (a) it’s actually better than usual Nickelback, or (b) it’s nestled among actual good songs, though all of them are organized haphazardly.
This doesn’t redeem Nickelback. No, no, no. They still, by far, deserve all the mockery. Yet this is a hint that they could become better.
I’m going to give Nickelback’s Feed the Machine a 60%.
There are some standout moments here. Feed the Machine has some of the best songs Nickelback has recorded, at least in a long while. However, overall, the album is only minimally better than the typical Nickelback fare, but at least there are a few times where you can tell they’re actually alive and not just a creator of robot-produced songs . . . feeding the machine.
We will have to wait and see what happens. I believe Nickelback could make a solid, consistent album, but they’ll have to want to do so as well. There are flashes of that here.