There was once a time in which post-grunge was actually considered a worthy successor to its parent subgenre grunge. Artists like Foo Fighters, Collective Soul, and Alanis Morissette began this new sound on the right foot, retaining much of grunge's distortion and intensity while utilizing more accessible song structures in the process. Things certainly got more bland and generic during the 2000s with bands like Puddle of Mudd, Theory of a Deadman, and Seether leading the charge, but little did people expect the explosion in sales and overall popularity from another up-and-coming act. Hailing from Canada, they are known as Nickelback.
What many people don't know is that Nickelback actually started as a straight-up grunge band, their first few releases Hesher and Curb having a much more distorted and heavy sound than in their later work. Unfortunately, this material was a bit bland and uninteresting for its subgenre and frontman Chad Kroeger's highly recognizable vocal style wasn't fully developed by this point. But with each successive release, their songwriting got a bit more fleshed out and you could see glimpses of the worldwide phenomenon they would become in the 2000s. Well, despite their career lasting for 20 years, they've never quite been able to replicate the success of their 2001 album Silver Side Up.
Nickelback's third effort was a huge leap up from The State, both in quality and sales... and why shouldn't it? The album's smash hit "How You Remind Me" was not only an iconic track for the band, but it was that for a reason. The song really represents the band's finest work, being highly melodic and catchy without abandoning the stronger elements of their first two records. The mix of intensity and poppy polish was infectious; luckily, the album it accompanies is quite good as well. Unlike Nickelback's later work, Silver Side Up fully embraces its alternative metal sound with much smaller room for ballads. In fact, "How You Remind Me" is among the softest tracks on this record, with heavy bangers like opener "Never Again" and "Just For" being much more prominent here. The songwriting is extremely tight and highly varied in its dynamics, offering soft verses and loud choruses in a move similar to Nirvana's work on Nevermind; however, it's usually not to the point of sounding too derivative.
Either way, what makes Silver Side Up so strong largely stems from the heavier songs. The songs are not necessarily technical marvels by any means, but Nickelback make up for it with songwriting consistency and some of Chad Kroeger's best vocal performances to date. The latter is especially notable in songs like "Never Again" and "Hollywood" in which Kroeger's voice really soars in the choruses, a great contrast to his more subdued and laid-back verses; this is a common post-grunge technique, but works quite well this time around because of Kroeger's charisma and overall presence in these songs. But in the end, it all comes down to the craftsmanship of the songs. "Just For" is still my favorite on here because of that great syncopated main riff; the F-minor motif is so catchy, but retains a distorted quality to maintain its edge throughout. "Too Bad" is also fantastic, the loud and climactic chorus being a wonderful payoff following such emotive and subtle verses; plus, its lyrics of poverty and abandonment are some of the most touching in the band's career. Naturally, some of the weakest tracks on here are the ones that bring out the more generic side of post-grunge music; "Where Do I Hide" and "Hangnail" are definitely those songs, sounding more like Theory of a Deadman's flavorless leftovers (I can see why Chad Kroeger would eventually work with them on their debut) than songs Nickelback really put their hearts into.
In fact, the second half of Silver Side Up as a whole doesn't always live up to classics like "How You Remind Me" or "Just For." It starts to sound as though the band are on autopilot, something that would unfortunately plague their work more drastically in the future. Despite this, I still think it's a very enjoyable little piece of post-grunge history. Is it life-changing? Of course not. But the songwriting can be quite excellent at times and the variety can be surprisingly strong when considering how many mid-tempo alternative metal songs are here. Overall, I'd recommend at least one listen if you're curious about Nickelback's beginnings as a worldwide smash, because this is certainly them at their finest.
(Originally published on Sputnikmusic.com)