Retrospective Reviews: Nickelback's 'Silver Side Up'
Reminiscing on our guilty pleasures with an album that sold 10 million copies.
Have we all not cried that same liquid metal tear on the cover of Nickelback's Silver Side Up? Coulda been during some insufferable rock block on K99.9 The Bulldog in the background of your Fox & Fiddle bartending shift. Coulda been at your cousin's wedding in Kamloops, when the DJ dropped "Too Bad" and the groom's side collectively clenched their fists, crushed their cans of Bud Light, and sprayed 'em over the dancefloor. Suffice to say, Nickelback were prognostic prophets of doom when they decided to grace us with the post-grunge masterwork that is Silver Side Up and predicted the years of bellyaching and tear-inducing tantrums that music critics and fans alike would experience in that bleeding eye album artwork.
Silver Side Up was the record that turned Nickelback from well-greased Canadian alt-rock touring piece to bonafide Juno-bait superstars and Canadian Recording Industry Association saviours, selling over 10 million freaking copies worldwide. Albeit, the boys had already scooped up "Best New Group" months prior for their lesser-known release The State, as if our nationwide embarrassment was being carefully prepared and served to us on a silver platter. Nickelback are our country's greatest anomaly, surpassing Rush in their status as music critic confounders and Billboard-chart busters, amassing worldwide fame and infamy with each superficial release (though leave Rush alone they're the best).
Confession of guilt: I loved the singles when they came out. I know, I'm breaking music journalism code, but at the time, I was hardly alone. Coming shortly after nu-metal's glory years, Nickelback offered comparatively tasteful bits of angst for the pubescent pre-teens in my peer group. I even caught their concert at Sarnia Bayfest and was blown away by their pyrotechnics and that one song from the Spiderman soundtrack that frontman Chad Kroeger dropped with the dude from Saliva. To the novice ear, "How You Remind Me" packed a hook-filled punch that was easier to swallow than Korn or Slipknot's discography, and parents probably liked that their kids finally stopped listening to that pesky Bizkit band and picked up on something more palatable.
But doing what I never did then, listening to the full breadth of Silver Side Up front to back, I see the mistake my 12-year-old self couldn't see. The record is just audio sludge, chunky, frothy bits of distortion with Kroeger howling the hollowest of sentiments overtop. Songs like "Hollywood" and "Woke Up This Morning" are like the audio equivalent of tearaway pants, tasteless bland slabs of no purpose rock and roll. Then there's "Never Again," the album opener which is an out-of-nowhere domestic abuse protest. "She's just a woman," Kroeger screams, somehow noble and somehow completely misguided, considering later on he lambasts a woman for drinking and flirting in "Money Bought" with a daddy-knows-best mentality.
The album ends with with the slide-guitar tinged "Good Times Gone" and we all heave an ironic sigh that it's like the exact opposite sensation when this album ends. "Where the good times gone?" the band wonders, shiny golden mullets and cowboy hats in tact, as if their roller coaster success story actually was ending or was to end. From here, the band continued to climb charts, bust the music buying public's trust, and sell millions upon millions of shiny plastic discs based on their paint-by-number fake rock patois (did you ever catch that "How You Remind of Someday" mashup? They knew what they were doing). In the post-Chavril age, where Kroeger and crew are still a joke and still sell-out Calgary Saddledome crowds, where does this record stand? Do we revere it? Do we stand in awe of its irreverent phenomena? Were those silver tears on the album cover actually consciously and cognitively platinum? Wherever it stands, I still want my nickel back, as that joke is just as tired as this record is and always will be.
Ivan Raczycki is a writer living in Toronto. He's on Twitter.