JOPLIN, Mo. —
The other day I experienced an emotion I never anticipated feeling -- sympathy for Nickelback.
Sure, Nickelback remains an extremely profitable touring draw, but jokes about the post-grunge Canadian band appear to have reached some tipping point in the popular consciousness.
Nickelback has become shorthand for “crap.”
The lede for ‘The AV Club’s’ review of Nickelback’s new album began by defining the band as the “figurehead of lowest-common-denominator douchebaggery.”
I’ve noticed on social media sites that even the band’s fans are aware of this reputation.
If you search “Nickelback” on Twitter nearly every post is either jokes at the band’s expense or comments about how making fun of Nickelback is passe because, duh, everyone knows they are the worst.
But one out of every 10 tweets or so is a supporter either defiantly or sheepishly admitting fealty to Nickelback’s brand of blunt corporate rock.
And yet Nickelback remains one of very few rock bands formed in the last 10 years capable of selling records and packing stadiums. What does this say about rock, let alone rock and roll? Beats me.
But here are some new albums full of rock music that I’m enjoying.
Japandroids: “Celebration Rock.”
I recommended Japandroids’ single “The House That Heaven Built” a few weeks ago, and the favorable sentiments I expressed then applies to the young duo’s entire album.
“The House That Heaven Built” remains my favorite song, but over the course of eight songs, the duo stoke and tend to a fiery, wide-eyed brand of riff rock with little more than pounding drums and thick guitar chords.
With his voice loud and high in the mix, Brian King never lets a clunky lyric or tortured metaphor get in the way of his absolute belief in the power of rock and roll.
The Walkmen: “Heaven.”
I don’t know if this is merely my perception, but it seems few rock bands reach a long, leisurely middle stage in their career anymore.
They either put out so few albums that 10 years in they maybe have three releases under their belt, or they come out to a lot of hype only to fade into obscurity or break-up.
Since releasing their debut in 2002, however, The Walkmen have released albums and toured at a regular clip Ñ the definition of a working band. Along the way they’ve refined what began as a boozy, rowdy strain of classic New York rock into something sparer and more reflective.
Too often music fetishsizes youth, but a younger band couldn’t make “Heaven.”
It’s not just the lyrics probing contentment and fatherhood, but the music is tawny and graceful, every guitar tone perfectly chosen and drum fill placed just so. I suspect it’s better even the first few listens let on.
King Tuff: “King Tuff.”
Recently, every year seems to bring at least a couple excellent no-frills, fuzzy, melodic garage pop, and I never tire of it.
King Tuff is the latest iteration. For me, this is archetypal summer music -- the kind you blast from blown-out speakers while doing donuts in the parking lot of a shuttered shopping mall.
This stuff sounds simple to make, like it was banged out by some teenage punks down the block, but it’s deceptively difficult to pull off this winningly.
Lead singer and songwriter Kyle Thomas approaches the material that bounces from swampy garage rock to glam to power pop with the right mix of irreverent humor and enthusiasm.
A song of summer
Justin Bieber: “Die in Your Arms.”
Like nearly all rankings, I find Billboard magazine’s charts, which determine the most popular and best-selling songs and albums in the country, fascinating.
Last week when Carly Rae Jepsen’s indomitable “Call Me Maybe” finally hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a number of stories broke about how Jepsen, who rocketed to national attention in the United States on the back of a Bieber tweet, was keeping Bieber’s own single “Boyfriend” from being the No. 1 song in the country .
Part of the problem for the Biebs is the Billboard Hot 100 is based on a combination of digital sales and radio play.
While Bieber kills it in digital sales, his singles have struggled to gain radio play in part because of a fear by Top 40 radio stations of driving away adult listeners with acts deemed too tween-oriented.
“Boyfriend,” released earlier this year, just now hit the No. 2 spot behind “Call Me Maybe.”
And that was after a big push by Bieber’s label.
Bieber has, in fact, never had a No. 1 single.
But if “Boyfriend” doesn’t get him there, maybe “Die in Your Arms” will.
A gorgeous, mid-tempo Michael Jackson-inspired throwback beautifully sung by the Biebs, “Die in Your Arms” is infectious without sounding like bubble gum.
I haven’t listened to the rest of the just-released “Believe” yet, but if this is the sound of “grown-up” Bieber, I’m on board.