Nickelback — “Dark Horse”
Reviewed by Shapan Debnath
Canada has been a hotbed of interesting bands since the turn of the century. But none of those bands hit the mainstream with as much force as Nickelback, whose hit single “How You Remind Me” mesmerized every radio station in 2002. Since then, the group has been a fixture in popular music, selling millions of records and shooting to the top of every chart.
However, the band’s progression throughout the decade has brought along many influential bands from up north, and while Nickelback’s music sells, its credibility as musicians has always been pretty iffy.
Its new record, “Dark Horse,” presents a valuable opportunity for Nickelback to grow as a band. As the record progresses, it’s obvious that this is an opportunity for which the band did not care to seize.
The album is littered with sexual innuendos from a band whose audience ranges from preteens to adults. The awkward descriptions in the opener “Something in Your Mouth” are obnoxious and angry all at once. “Burn It to the Ground” comes off as forced, filled with narcissism and a twisting riff that’s better left on a Wolfmother or Chevelle album.
Up next is the sappy ballad “Gotta Be Somebody,” in which you could probably guess the lyrics in the chorus of the song before you heard them. “I’d Come For You” isn’t less predictable or cheesy, but it actually showcases Chad Kroeger’s vocals pretty well.
After some warmth, “Next Go Round” is filled with boring descriptions of cheap sex as the band recycles another churning guitar riff while Kroeger spills all of his immoral fantasies. “Just to Get High” is a song about a fallen junkie. The track actually paints a descriptive, depressing picture, has a catchy chorus and isn’t about a woman, so that might be refreshing. “Never Let Go” is another sad, sad love song that is followed, appropriately, by two more trashy songs, one about a loose woman and another about how “sex is always the answer.”
However, a Nickelback record wouldn’t be complete without an inspirational sing-along, and “If Today Was Your Last Day” fits the bill. The closer “This Afternoon” is the most easy-going track on the album, and could practically be a country song. As nice as it is to hear Kroeger lighten up a bit, this song sounds completely out of place on the album.
It’s often thought that credibility and popularity run opposite of each other, which isn’t true at all. Most of the time, there’s only so long before an obscure talent can stay away from the spotlight before they’re scooped up by major labels. Nickelback has accrued many haters during its time, but it has nothing to do with its success. This album provides a glimpse as to why.
Here, the group is constantly juggling promiscuity and sensitivity, juxtaposed as if for style, while the riffs remain dull and the chords predictable. Where is this band’s identity? Is there any point here at all? And why are you still listening?
Kanye West — “808s & Heartbreak”
Reviewed by Matthew Agustin
For all of Kanye West’s antics, rants and videos of him harassing paparazzi at LAX airport, what people don’t realize is that we are in the midst of seeing the evolution of the O generation’s Warhol/Bowie/Prince. “808s & Heartbreak” is Kanye West’s transformation into pop art minimalism.
For those who have followed West’s endeavors through “Graduation” or simply glanced at his blog from time to time, “808s & Heartbreak” should be no surprise. The man has high regards for pop art, design and fashion, glorifying his associations with current superstar artists and designers like Takashi Murakami and KAWS, among others.
The Phil Collins-inspired record, noted for its minimal arrangements utilizing the TR-808 drum machine and Auto-Tune audio processor, is a conceptual breakup album. It can be widely assumed that the notion of a full album abusing T-Pain’s Auto-Tune effect would not bode well with West’s general fan base, but in the spectrum of heartbreak, it is welcome and effective.
West, one of the most sought -after producers in the rap game, effectively exploits both audio tools to exhibit the customary sentiments seen in any sort of broken heart: anger, paranoia, denial and closure. In songs such as “Say You Will” and “Bad News,” the combination of the two creates a unique, restrained ambience like nothing ever heard before in popular music.
The two standout tracks are those that bridge vintage West into his current manifestation. “Heartless” and “Paranoid” see him bringing some of that Kanye-swagger back, rapping on verses that lead into radio-friendly, crooning hooks. “Heartless,” the track most likely to see heavy rotation at your local dance club and also the track known as “the coldest story ever told,” sees the artist evoking feelings of frustration and denial as he declares to the masses that “we just gon’ be enemies.” With arrangements and beats that sound oddly similar to intro music for a Turbo Grafix track and field-themed video game, “Paranoid” is a sure-fire anthem for an “808s & Heartbreak” world tour.
Fans who might feel alienated by the artist’s digressions should not assume that we’re seeing a “new” Kanye. The intensity seen in the likes of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” from 2007’s “Graduation,” is further continued in the Taiko drum-heavy “Amazing.” Hip-hop fans will welcome guest spots from Young Jeezy, on the aforementioned “Amazing,” as well as current hip-hop victory-cigar Lil’ Wayne, who also follows the Auto-Tune route on the somewhat mediocre track “See You in My Nightmares.”
“808s & Heartbreak” will either be praised for its ambition and conceptualization or dismissed by fans for failing to progress from its brilliant predecessor. On the surface level, one could say that “808s” is a clever effort that grows old fast because of its sonic limitations. “808s & Heartbreak” is not a hip-hop record; it is a pop art tour de force that decisively executes juxtaposition between music and emotion. Kanye West is four for four thus far, as far as albums go, and doesn’t seem to be stopping his success any time soon.