Let’s be totally honest—the hatred for Nickelback has always been overdone, and it’s good to see that people are finally starting to move away from performative ‘worst band ever’ admonishments when there are far easier targets out there. Granted, it’s mainly just apathy now, but hey, it’s something, right?
But it almost feels compulsory to start off any long-form discussion of Nickelback with a statement like that, as it has done for years. The branding they’ve picked up has made it an unavoidable thorn to be pulled at, though somewhat futilely given that any critical reevaluation of Nickelback is effectively pointless. They aren’t a band with the sort of catalogue that welcomes it; instead, they’ve made lowest-common-denominator rock music forever, with occasionally the mildest change-up that’s never affected the payoff even slightly.
And you know what? That’s fine. After all, Nickelback have basically critic-proofed themselves permanently through it, seeing as the voracity of the flogging they’ve been on the receiving end of since inception has done nothing to diminish them. If anything, they’re basically in a field of one now, where the bad radio-rock and post-grunge trying to rip them off so brazenly is all but extinct now, purely because none of those bands could write songs as catchy—or, if nothing else, memetic—as Nickelback can. There’s no compositional genius to be found here, but it’s more than most like them could ever muster, and brushing against pop on 2014’s No Fixed Address and flirtations with metal on 2017’s Feed The Machine (their two most recent albums, at that) at least points towards a band aware of how immovable their longevity is.
But even saying all that, there can be a certain degree of embarrassment felt from sticking up for a band like this, especially when a new album comes out. Nickelback are unquestionably a singles band, meaning that when an album like Get Rollin’ comes out and places their stark, omnipresent limitations under a more scrutinising light, the established hits can wind up feeling like the exception to the rule. And when they’re still painting with the same brush strokes as wide as the Atlantic, with minimal variety after all these years, you start to wonder what Get Rollin’ really adds to any greater conversation.
The answer is, of course, nothing. This is Nickelback after all, a band whose deepest foray into real creativity was a collaboration with Flo Rida, and for whom new albums act as tools to shore up a legacy that’s pretty much set in stone at this stage. With that in mind, Get Rollin’ presents all the usual flavours of Nickelback once more. You’ve got your hard-rockin’ stompers, your sweeping, earnestly saccharine power-ballads, and the mid-tempo fare in between, and yet again, it’s all practically impossible to hate all that much. As anticlimactic as that may seem, it’s the truth; Nickelback are too uniformly competent to outright hate, and them boiling down their entire musical existence to a science is clearly still working as far as easy, accessible, unchallenging rock goes.
Because, for as much as they’re retaking every step they’ve ever made on this album, they can still be okay at it. San Quentin is the obvious standout, as the raucous, driving rocker pivoting closer to metal that’s become an invaluable asset for them in later years, but as far as middle-of-the-road rock goes, Steel Still Rusts and Standing In The Dark take their place among the band’s established canon with fair ease. All of that comes with the clear acknowledgment that Get Rollin’ effectively serves as the usual stock-take of Nickelback’s skills, in which they’re really no significantly better or worse than they usually are. The highs aren’t very high, but they’re serviceable enough; even when the formula is being as rinsed as it is, there’s a certain bar of quality that Nickelback can hit in their sleep.
Granted, that’s not to excuse the clangers that are also prone within that usual package, of which Get Rollin’ continues to have its fair share. Some could point out High Time as the low point, with its jaunty southern-rock croak that further compounds how lame of a song about weed this is, as well as how infernally pleased with itself it sounds about the exact same thing. In truth, it’s probably the ballads that fare the worst, between nostalgia-pandering to the nth degree on Those Days, and a slushy love song in Does Heaven Even Know You’re Missing? that’s treacly and maudlin even by Nickelback’s standards.
But again, that’s all par for the course. The spirit of rock commercialism courses through Get Rollin’, not only as Nickelback’s greatest sin but their most stable crutch. And to a degree, you can kind of let them off the hook for it, seeing as vast experimentation has never been in their nature. To be fair, they’re playing around with some spacier production touches on Tidal Wave and Just One More, or slight country-rock flavour on Steel Still Rusts; neither add any nutrition to the existing meat-and-potatoes radio-rock, but they work for what they’re going for. And after all, the album still averages out in usual Nickelback fashion, in which there’s no edge or transgression, or ambition outside of the broadest plays for the down-the-middle rock crowd. Even on its ‘heavy’ moments, that still applies (even if both Skinny Little Missy and Vegas Bomb end up clunkier and more heavy-footed than particularly powerful).
If anything, it’s a similar end to where a lot of country music was in the 2010s, slightly in execution but mostly in ethos. The former is the briefest to qualify—there’s all the chest-puffing and classic rock worship fed through, holding as a swaggering, masculine-coded base that indulges in its softer side too. As for the latter, Nickelback clearly know how popular they are and how to win over that existing audience. To project further, it’s not an audience that demands to be challenged (they’ve stuck around this long after all), and probably holds more—for lack of a better term—traditional values that music like this can appeal to. That could be the whole reason Steel Still Rusts is here, as a song about a young man going off to war that’s more a celebration of veterans and soldiers than anything too critical of the US government or war itself (though thankfully, it’s nowhere near as jingoistic as it could be).
And let’s be clear—there’s a place for music like that. Especially in the case of Nickelback, theirs is among the most harmless overall, likely a result of its abject broadness and lack of real edge or significant depth. It’s all playing the hits, as it were; if Feed The Machine’s assertions to rising up were a bit too radical, Get Rollin’ is back to good ol’ terra firma with another helping of everything the fans know and love. Of course, for a more discerning listener, the appeal to this is drastically limited. This is Nickelback’s tenth album, and it couldn’t be clearer how much they’re resting on their laurels; hell, even they themselves probably wouldn’t deny it at this point. But in the context of what it’s trying to achieve and who it’s for, Get Rollin’ is nothing to get worked up about at all.
Maybe that’s a bad thing—after all, even a bad album can be more fun to rip apart than a boring one—but at this stage, what’s the point in even singling Nickelback out for that? Even coasting like they evidently are here, they’re still leagues above the bands whose entire careers have been dedicated to copying their lead, and that’s because Nickelback, if nothing else, have some charm to them. Yes, Chad Kroeger still sings with that voice, but he’s got conviction; there’s enough snarl to play the hard-edged rockstar as there is earnestness to sell his pretensions towards depth and sincerity. And when it’s all played to a strong enough standard, and sounds how you’d expect from a big-budget, unequivocally mainstream album, that’s where they want to be, and they’re there.
Look, if you’re actively looking for Nickelback reviews to validate some latent desire to see them torn to shreds and continue the longstanding narrative around them, maybe it’s worth re-examining why that’s something you want. Yes, Get Rollin’ can be a pretty middling, pretty unimaginative album at the best of times, but if that still constitutes a belief of ‘worst band ever’, that just feels a bit disingenuous overall. No, with definitive certainty, Nickelback are not the worst band ever. They’re not the best either—not by a long shot—but they’ve clearly got some talent and know what they’re doing when it comes to the music they’re making. That can still be applied to an album like this, which isn’t even among their best, but shows a band dialling into what’s made them popular and successful for years, running with it, and producing the results that’ll ensure that keeps going for plenty of time yet to come. You mightn’t like it, and even from the position of recognising there is quality here, it’d be nice if more creative bands got even a fraction of the slice they have, but there are more worthwhile entities in the music industry to hate than this.
For fans of: Nickelback, Chad Kroeger, that band who did How You Remind Me
‘Get Rollin’’ by Nickelback is out now on BMG.
Words by Luke Nuttall