In the late 1970s, Donny and Marie Osmond did a cute schtick on their television show. One of them presented themselves as “a little bit country,” and the other, “a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.” It was good-natured self-deprecation, of course, as they were neither of those opposite musics.
Today, however, the two styles are not so dissimilar. A little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll is basically a genre onto itself. This year at the Stagecoach country music festival, Axl Rose joined Carrie Underwood for guns-blazing performances of Guns N’ Roses songs Sweet Child O’ Mine and Paradise City. If that chocolate-and-peanut-butter pairing blows your mind, you haven’t been paying attention. In terms of audiences and sound, new country is today’s classic rock.
Do you know who has been paying attention to this trend? Nickelback has. The Alberta-bred, British Columbia-based hard-rock veterans are releasing a new album on Friday, Get Rollin’, that includes two songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton album. In the same week that Nickelback was named as an inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the band was announced as one of the headliners at the Ontario country music blowout Boots and Hearts this summer along with Keith Urban and Tim McGraw.
Nickelback played one of its countryish numbers, Those Days, at an album launch at Toronto’s History club on Tuesday. As it was singer Chad Kroeger’s birthday, the crowd sang Happy Birthday. He’s 48 years old, and the band’s fans are of the same vintage. Cozying up to country is a smart semi-pivot for a deceptively savvy act that has crunched the numbers and sized up the demographics.
Nickelback knows there’s bro country for old men (and women).
Mind you, most of the new album chugs thuggishly with the grungy chord progressions and big catchy choruses to be expected from the bestselling band that is loathed by some and loved by others. San Quentin, the album’s aggressive lead single and opening track, sounds like Metallica on Ritalin. Johnny Cash would not recognize this San Quentin.
Those Days, though, is the kind of strummed ode to a youthful past that rock-country crossover hacks often turn to. “Remember every poster we had hangin’ on the wall,” Kroeger reminisces, “Remember every T-shirt we stole from the local mall.” This is wistful breeze-shooting about the 1980s in the manner of Kid Rock, who went Southern fried with 2007′s All Summer Long – “It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long ...”
This isn’t Nickelback’s first rodeo. In 2010, the band released This Afternoon, a funky faux-country number about dope smoking. Speaking to MTV News back then, Kroeger described the song as a rock version of Garth Brooks’s Friends In Low Places. Remember that Brooks once developed the fictional Australian rock-star persona Chris Gaines as a way to explore music outside the country genre.
(The Gaines character was not necessarily inspired by Keith Urban, an Australian artist whose rock-orientated songs are considered country only in a marketing sense.)
Speaking about This Afternoon, bassist Mike Kroeger (brother of Chad) said that country music was an influence on the band members growing up: “It’s a big part of our background.” You can take the boys out of Alberta ...
That same stoner-friendly theme of This Afternoon is referenced in the title of the new album and revisited musically with the swampy bong-hitter High Time. “Every time we cross state lines, the grass we find on the other side always seems to twist up twice as green,” goes one line.
That’s a nod to the grass-is-greener idiom – the perception that things are better somewhere else. Crossover act Nickelback is about to test that theory out.