Music Schmusic: Worst Decade Ever Pt. 9  

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I’ve been putting this one off. But I can’t keep quiet any longer. I’ve been listening to a lot of Nickelback recently, trying to get ready for this post. And I need to bring this to your attention, because I believe it is an urgent threat to our national and moral fabric:

Grown men, singing lyrics that sound like tween girls’ poetry. You can’t deny it’s out there, and you can’t deny that it’s growing. Take Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger for example; he looks like a man, and he sings like a belt sander, but the words that come sound like a middle school poetry slam.

It comes down to one of two possibilities: Either there are large men hunched over their computers in darkened rooms, trolling LiveJournal for suitably sappy poetry, or, perhaps more disturbingly, there are secret sweatshops packed full of tween girls, toiling away in a 2x2 workspace – their only possessions being a laptop computer and the complete collection of “One Tree Hill” DVDs – forced to churn out page after page of angst-ridden lyrics. The members of Nickelback oversee this factory of tears, offering a meager wage only to those who produce album-worthy material; a once-daily bathroom break is afforded only to the girls who provide singles.

I know, I know. This sounds crazy. And I sure don’t have a lot of hoitey toitey academic degrees or evidence of even facts. I’m just a guy asking questions.

You could say that listening to all this Nickelback has made me crazy. But what if I’m right? Sure it all seems like a coincidence, but what if it’s more than that? What if…I’m sorry I usually don’t get so emotional. I just love…pop music…(sob)… so…much.

Someday (2003)

Nickelback - Someday

Alan | MySpace Video

“Someday” has one of the worst videos of all time. We lay out scene in a couple’s kitchen. The woman is crying over something she read on the in the newspaper. Sometimes those “Cathy” strips hit a little too close to home for me, too. Her boyfriend is watching her, as she rushes to pack her suitcase and runs out to her car. He chases after, only to see her get into a terrible auto accident and die. As a crowd gathers to look at the mangled body, the boyfriend watches as his girlfriend materializes in spirit form, and is reunited with him. Turns out the story she was crying over earlier was her boyfriend’s obituary. He was a ghost the whole time, and now she is too thanks to suicide. What a touching no, heartwarming er, life-affirming , deeply troubling and morally questionable ending. That works. Hiring M. Night Shyamalan to direct your music video? That doesn’t.

The song is nothing to be proud of either, complete with lyrics like “Now the story’s played out like this/just like a paperback novel/Let’s rewrite an ending that fits/instead of a Hollywood horror.” Yeah, I learned about similes and metaphors in grade school, too.

Far Away (2006)

This, one of Nickelback’s most maudlin efforts, is a great opportunity to explain what I mean about Nickelback’s lyrics. The listener is faced with the same disconnect you get from Hinder, where a big, burly guy with a big, burly voice is singing really trite lyrics. I call them tween girl lyrics, not to denigrate female songwriters – because there’s no question that there have been many amazing female songwriters – but because the level of poetry is juvenile, and the syrupy romantic subject matter has been indigenous to young girls’ diaries for decades.

Listening to “Far Away” provides a moment of clarity: For as weird as it sounds to have these lyrics coming from the mouth of this man-bear, it’s really Nickeback’s saving grace, because no girl group could get away with singing these lyrics. If Liz Phair or Ann Wilson or Joni Mitchell wrote a song with lyrics like “I have loved you all along/And I miss you/Been far away for far too long/I keep dreaming you'll be with me/and you'll never go” none of them would be taken seriously. If they sang the line “Stop breathing if I don't see you anymore” they’d be accused of setting the female musicians back to the era of “He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss).”

But you can almost forget about the awful lyrics of “Far Away” by watching its awful video. Right off the bat, Kroeger makes the regrettable decision to park his donkey face right in front of the camera, as if to really drive home the grown man-tween girl disconnect. But it’s the cutaway sequences, which tell the story of a fire jumper and his lady friend that really win for me. The whole think kind of feels like they spun the Hero Wheel to write this video.

Chad Kroeger: So how about we make our video about a soldier being called up to fight in Iraq?
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: Dude, isn’t that a little controversial? Besides, ever other band is going to have a solider in their video.
Chad Kroeger: Ok, how about the SWAT team guy who defuses bombs and shit?
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: No, that’s played out.
Chad Kroeger: Well fuck, man, we need a hero for the video.
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: How about an inner-city teacher; they’re the real heroes.
Chad Kroeger: Where’s the action? The video needs to be really EXTREME to distract people from the shitty lyrics.
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: Ok, how about a letter carrier…
Chad Kroeger: Have you been popping pills from a Pez dispenser again?
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: Hear me out, man. A letter carrier…in space.
Chad Kroeger: Huh?
Whoever the fuck else is in Nickelback: You know, the guy who has to deliver mail to the space station.
Chad Kroeger: Whatever, we’re doing it about a fire fighter. He’ll go try to put out a fire in an empty field or something, and some big ass tree will fall on him.

That’s more or less what happens. The fire fighter and his wife/girlfriend/concubine/sister/I don’t really know are looking at a photo album/yearbook/picture book/Kama Sutra in bed when he is called away (far away, presumably) by his fire jumper team. The woman watches on TV – aided by the helpful and realistic news captions like “Huge forest fire!”

It’s actually pretty impressive that a video about fire fighting can seem so boring, but that’s mostly because instead of fighting the fire, the video is mainly focused on minutiae like making sure the hose is long enough, attaching various parts to allow the water to flow, et cetera. But the action really picks up when, for some reason, one of the fire fighters decides to run deeper into the fire, despite the fact that his teammates, and those of us with half a brain, realize that this is stupid, and really kind of pointless. Someone from the team retrieves the body of one of the other fire fighters and airlifts him to safety, but our protagonist is left behind. Then, sure enough, a tree falls on him.

Cut back home, where the woman somehow found out about the guy, and is crying uncontrollably. A quick change of sweaters and she’s ready to hear the bad news from the other members of the fire fighting team who have arrived outside her door. But suddenly, out of nowhere, the man walks out of the shadows and the couple is reunited.

Ok, if I did a subpar job of explaining that video, I apologize, but I can only work with what they give me. If you think about it for a minute (a few minutes longer than Nickelback likely did), the questions begin to pile up: How the fuck did he get out of the forest fire? If the helicopter came back for him, then his teammates would know he was alive, in which case why did they bother to all go to his wife’s house? Was the last minute of this video, from the phone call to the visit, just some elaborate scheme by the husband to punk his wife into thinking he died? Or did the wife just commit suicide in order to be reunited with her dead husband on the other side? I’m going with that answer, simply based on precedent.

If Everyone Cared (2006)

This song did the impossible: It somehow beat out “Waiting for the World to Change” as the dumbest socially-conscience pop song of the decade. “If Everyone Cared” sounds like a protest song written by people who don’t know what they’re protesting, and don’t really care. And I don’t mean that in the way that Rage Against the Machine’s songs are just sort of vague, generalized anger at “the man;” I mean that Nickelback not only wrote a song that is essentially about nothing, they don’t seem too upset about it. Kind of ironic given the song’s chorus:

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died

Given that logic, I can only guess how many deaths this song has caused. Listening to Nickelback is painful enough to make you want to cry; they clearly don’t care; oh, and the chorus is a big lie, because the rest of the song is actually about a couple looking at the stars.

I wish I were kidding. I wish they had actually wrote a full on protest song about how mad they are about…uh…death, and that if people just cared enough, nobody would die. Ever. But they didn’t; they wrote a clichéd love song, with a chorus that – despite the apparent belief of the band – never even enters into the same time zone as profound, and they bridge it all together with the flimsy assertion that “If they could love like you and me” then everyone would care and nobody would die.

So instead of any real message or meaning, we get a song that basically says “If George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein could have just loved each other as much as I love my new boyfriend/girlfriend there’d be no need for war.” Shit, I guess those tween girls are still hard at work.

Rockstar (2006)

Here, Nickelback proved they have some range. Tired of simply being the overly macho conduits of tween girl poetry, the guys set out to prove they could sing tween boys’ poetry, too. Of course, they maintained the complete lack of any self-awareness that is the band’s calling card, by making their 18th single all about what they would do if they were big rock stars. So what would Nickelback do if they were big rock stars? The sort of stuff that any tween boy would want to do: go to the Playboy mansion, hire a bodyguard to beat people up, drive 15 cars, and…uh…play baseball in the bathroom.

I don’t want to dwell on how much this song sounds like it was written for a 12-year-old boy’s poetry class, but it really, really does. Of course there’s the over-the-top braggadocio, but there’s also the really in-your-face sexuality. This is a song is determined that you know it likes chicks. That’s why it talks about centerfolds, joining the mile-high club and getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard somewhere between Cher and James Dean

Wait a minute, how did those two gay icons get into this tribute to man stuff? For that matter, why does the male narrator talk about cutting his hair to become famous? Male rock stars grow their hair, not cut it. And come to think of it, the song doesn’t actually talk about boning the centerfold; it talks about dating her so they can go shopping. Ok, moving on…

Savin’ Me (2006)

Nickelback - "Savin' Me" Video

NICKELBACK | MySpace Music Videos

Where the fuck did this come from? How did guys who sang “I like your pants around your feet” and “You look so much better with something in your mouth” turn out a Christian rock song? “Savin’ Me” carries all the hallmarks of a Christian rock song that is trying hard to keep its mainstream appeal: the imprisonment metaphor, the feeling of being lost and broken, and calling out for a savior to redeem you. These lyrics are too overt for Switchfoot. Even taking this as a religious song, the imagery is lazy.

But as usual, Nickelback manages to distract us from their tired sound and awful lyrics by making an even stupider video. What’s worse, they’ve moved from ripping off “The Sixth Sense” to ripping off a much worse movie, “Final Destination.” Both play off the same “when you cheat death, you can see death’s plan” crap, accept “Savin’ Me” takes it a step further and turns it into a game of tag. When someone pulls you out of the way of a speeding truck of falling industrial equipment, you gain the ability to see how long everyone has left to live.

I want to go on record here, in stating that this video is totally unrealistic. These people gain the ability to tell how long someone has left to live simply by looking at them? And they don’t try to parlay this into a new age money-making scheme? Fuck, if these assholes can get major TV deals, the people in this video should at least be able to get regular gigs at small-market casinos.

Anyway, as soon as you save someone, you pass off the ability to them, and leave them to wander the streets aimlessly until they can stop the next untimely (or is it timely?) death. If, like these people, you live in a city where three people on the same city block die every other minute, you can rid yourself of this power rather quickly.

By the way, if you can not laugh when the old lady’s high school drama club-worthy death coincides perfectly with the end of the guitar solo, you’re a better person than I.

If Today Was Your Last Day (2008)

A lot of singers have poor grammar. I’ve come to accept that, and most of the time I don’t complain. But when you base an entire song around that same misuse of the English language, I won’t let that go.

The line “If today was your last day” is speculation and speculation calls for the subjunctive tense of the verb “to be” which is “were.” Suppose in the in process of writing her latest album, someone asked the Beyonce, “Hey, what do you think it would be like to be a boy?” If, in fact, she had once been a boy, she could reply, “When I was a boy, I put myself first and made the rules as I went.” I would have no problem with this, because it is grammatically correct and I believe that transgendered people are deserving of the same respect as everyone else. But Beyonce isn’t a boy, she never has been, and given the success her feminine physique has given her, and the fact that she is well past the age of majority, she is never going to be a boy. So the sentence calls for the subjunctive, “If I were a boy…”

Here’s a simple way to remember the subjunctive: Chad Kroeger could say “If I were a good songwriter I wouldn’t suck so hard” and that would be grammatically correct, because he’s not a good songwriter and he’s never going to be a good songwriter. It’s purely hypothetical.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into this awful wannabe country song, “If Today Was Your Last Day.” Every line in this song is a different motivational quote. It’s one “carpe diem” away from the “Dead Poets Society” script. The whole song sort of feels like the football player in Logic 101 trying to philosophize. The writer was trying so hard to be profound, but ended up making Heidi Montag look thoughtful.

Then there’s that line “Leave old pictures in the past.” God I wish they had...

Photograph (2005)

There’s not much worse in life than this song. Failure, the pain of rejection, scabies; they all pale in comparison. It probably helps that most of these themes are the subject of this losers’ anthem. Give Nickelback credit, however; there’s a lot of pain in these lyrics, and Kroeger really helps you feel it to the point where you worry he’s going to have a hemorrhoid by the end of the song.

Every now and then you have to stop and appreciate the fact that Chad Kroeger is actually a singer. Think about that for a second; Chad Kroeger, who sings like he’s trying to kick the song’s ass, could claim the same profession as Frank Sinatra. You’re reminded of just how bizarre this is early and often in “Photograph,” and Kroeger looks straight into the camera and melodically bellows: “Look at this photograph.” In case you didn’t get it, he holds up a photograph.

The fourth line really demonstrates Nickelback’s lyrical prowess: “What the hell is on Joey’s head.” That’s when you realize it’s going to be one of those songs, where the singer just narrates everything he sees, as he sees it. And the fact that it’s rhymed with “How did our eyes get so red” really makes you question how the first verse of your song could possibly contain two throwaway lines. Normally, Nickelback songs can at least hold it together until the second verse, or at least the chorus. Frankly, it’s pretty hard to get past this point. It’s like your ears have stumbled across a barren wasteland, and you realize that going any further is kind of a useless, because nothing ahead of you could possibly sustain life. But we push on, because this is Movies Schmovies damn it. I made it through Vampires vs. Zombies, I made it through Shatter Dead, I made it through Antichrist, I made it through something like 400 Black Eyed Peas videos, and I'll make it through this too.

Somewhere in the third verse we figure out that the narrator is a high school dropout. That might make me a prick for pointing out that this song, also, fails to grasp the subjunctive tense (“If I was them I wouldn’t let me in”), as well as the fact that the narrator assumes his criminal record would contain trespassing offenses committed as a minor (“Criminal record says I broke in twice”). His juvenile record would be closed, assuming the narrator is over 18 (god I hope so).

In spite of the narrator sounding like he’s reflecting on his third tour in ‘Nam, this song actually doesn’t tell us a lot about the character. What photograph is he looking for and why? Do his memories of high school make him happy or sad? With Kroeger’s voice it’s kind of hard to tell. And perhaps most importantly, how does a song about a 20-something loser’s reflections on his fairly mundane high school experience appeal to Nickelback’s teenage audience? I haven’t the slightest clue; all I know is that you can hear this song on Kidz Bop. I guess even in elementary school, kids look forward to the mawkish reflections they will someday be able to have as of yet to be had on their high school years, whereas all I can think while I’m listening to this song is the likelihood that I went to school with people like this, and they’re hanging around somewhere in the Chicaogland area looking at old pictures and muttering “What the hell is on Jon’s head?” This song is why I’m never going to a reunion.

* * *

So, by now you probably feeling like you’ve survived the trials of Hercules, but I haven’t told you the half of it yet. Nickelback will not be satisfied until it has unmade everything that is good and holy about our society. Just look at their name: Nickelback. And what’s on the back of the nickel? Monticello. Sounds awfully Italian to me. But what’s to fear about Italians, you ask? Oh, nothing. Except maybe for that guy Mussolini, and that socialist porn star in their government.

Now I know you’re all rushing to grab a nickel because I can’t possibly be right about all of this, so once you see that I’m not pulling your chain, flip that coin over and see what’s on the front: Thomas Jefferson, our god-fearing philosopher-president, without whom we’d still be sieg heiling George III. And Nickelback wants him facing down. So why are these Canadians asking us to cover up our founding fathers in favor of Italian Nazi socialism? I don’t claim to know all the answers; I’m just a guy asking questions.

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