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Much-maligned Nickelback still a powerhouse

With the recording industry in a slump, bands can no longer expect blockbuster sales — except for Nickelback. Past multiplatinum albums are no guarantee of future success either — unless you’re Nickelback.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the recording industry in a slump, bands can no longer expect blockbuster sales — except for Nickelback. Past multiplatinum albums are no guarantee of future success either — unless you’re Nickelback. Concert sellouts aren’t guaranteed — but that doesn’t apply to Nickelback.

It’s been almost 18 months since the release of “All the Right Reasons,” which has sold more than 5 million copies on the strength of hits such as the ubiquitous “Photograph.” The Canadian band’s tour is selling out arenas nationwide. All this followed up the triple-platinum “The Long Road” in 2003. And still, the commercial powerhouse shows no sign of slowing.

Nickelback has also recently branched out to the arena of benevolence. Digital sales from their latest hit, the activist anthem “If Everyone Cared,” are being donated to Amnesty International and International Children’s Awareness Canada.

“In a climate that a lot of people aren’t doing that well, we’re very, very fortunate,” Nickelback’s leader, vocalist Chad Kroeger, said in a recent phone interview.

“We’re just lucky that we’ve been able to make a connection to fans of all ages, instead of just hitting with one group of fans or one age group,” he added. “Our fans are really over the map, and that makes it really easy when we pull into town to draw a large variety of people who want to sit and listen to Nickelback songs.”

Not everybody wants to sit and listen to Nickelback — mainly, most critics. Ever since the release of 2001’s six-times platinum “Silver Side Up,” they’ve gotten routine drubbings from music journalists and others who deride their radio-friendly, soaring rock songs as unoriginal, insipid or, perhaps of the worst all, Creed-like.

Critics? What critics?But it’s easy for Kroeger to tune talk like that out — especially with thousands of fans screaming in his ear every night.

“We don’t listen to critics anymore. I don’t think we’ve ever listened to critics, but we don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” Kroeger, 32, said.

The gruff-voiced, curly haired Kroeger, who is also the group’s lyricist, has tuned out the doubters before — especially when it came time to release “All the Right Reasons,” as industry insiders told them they’d never repeat the success they had with “Silver Side Up” or even “The Long Road.”

“Usually, if (bands) do what Nickelback has done, you watch it decline. You always watch, they come out and they’ll have some success early on and it always seems to trickle off, it never seems to gain momentum,” he said. “We worked so hard to make sure that that didn’t happen with this album.”

Kroeger’s devotion to detail in his songwriting is one reason why the band has had such success, says hit songwriter Kara DioGuardi, who recently worked with him for another project.

“He’ll write it, and then he’ll go back and say, ‘The chorus isn’t right, the verse isn’t right.’ He spends weeks perfecting each song, making it the absolute best it can be,” she said. “Great melodies, great lyrics and a great band makes for a winning combination.”

Kroeger says the band worked particularly hard on the latest record — seven months — and always tries to cast a wide net in terms of the songs’ appeal so they can have the broadest audience possible. It’s not something a lot of acts like to admit — a yearning for mass success — but Kroeger scoffs at the notion that bands shouldn’t want mainstream appeal.

“I really don’t understand that. I’ve never understood that. Criticism of people who want as many people as possible on the planet to sing along to their songs,” he said, laughing. “Sounds ridiculous to me.”

More than just their hits
And the band feels their success has extended beyond just hits. The charity campaign from “If Everyone Cared” has raised over $200,000, according to Kroeger. The song, accompanied by a powerful video, pushes the idea that global change for the better starts on an individual level — call it Nickelback’s “Man in the Mirror.”

“We wanted to inspire people that were going to see the video and maybe show people that you don’t need a team of personnel, you don’t need a lot of money,” he said. “What we’re showing in the video is an individual that decided that they would like to somehow make a change and make the world a better place on their own, and they succeeded.”

At first, the band was concerned how the message would be perceived: “We were worried about coming across preachy,” Kroeger said. But as the band thought of their enormous reach, it made them more inclined to include it.

“If you can take that power and turn it toward positivity and awareness and trying to make a world a better place that’s a great motive,” he said.

While the song is a growing success, it doesn’t seem to have changed critics’ perceptions. Recent tour write-ups have been at best ambivalent, and some downright hostile.

But the band measures their success not by critical acclaim, but by their fans. And a recent meeting with a young father, wearing the picture of a little girl on his T-shirt, gave Kroeger all the acclaim he needed when he asked the girl’s identity.

“He said, ‘That is my daughter, and we lost her, and your song ‘Far Away’ is the only thing that got us through that loss,”’ Kroeger said. “That was just very moving for me.”