Nickelback's 'No Fixed Address': Is anyone really listening?

Nickelback's new album has inspired the usual disdain. But how closely are the band's detractors listening?

You put on the new Nickelback album and you expect to hear big guitars, booming drums and quite a few hearty endorsements of oral sex.

What you don’t expect is a song about the National Security Agency. Or a guest appearance by Flo Rida. Or a disco cut featuring backing vocals by Ali Tamposi, a professional songwriter who’s also worked with Kelly Clarkson and One Direction.

Those are just a few of the surprising things about “No Fixed Address,” the latest record from this Canadian hard-rock band. (Bonus insider surprise: The song with Tamposi isn’t called “Miss You,” like the Rolling Stones’ famous disco jam, even though there is a song called “Miss You” on “No Fixed Address.”)

I’m not saying the album is a total reinvention -- it still has big guitars, booming drums and at least one reference to oral sex (in the Flo Rida track, duh). But it’s definitely weird: a deviation from a formula that’s sold tens of millions of Nickelback albums and yielded such rock-radio staples as “How You Remind Me” and the excellent “Photograph.”

So how come nobody’s noticed?

In “Edge of a Revolution,” frontman Chad Kroeger ponders what he sees as the government’s dependence on “mass confusion” to distract us from its wrongdoing. “Hey, hey / Just obey,” he growls over a crunching riff, “Your secret’s safe with the NSA.”

“She Keeps Me Up” sets a series of sleazy come-ons (which Tamposi answers) against a throbbing dance-floor groove similar to the one in “Got Me Runnin’ Round,” where Flo Rida promises to chase a woman like Belvedere -- the vodka, one presumes, not the TV butler.

Then there are the two comic set pieces that show off Kroeger’s flair for dialogue: “Get ’Em Up,” in which a couple of doofuses try to rob a bank only to realize that it’s Sunday and the place is closed, and “Million Miles an Hour,” about a guy tripping on psychedelic drugs. Alas, the best parts of each are unprintable here, but they’re as funny and specific as high-level sitcom writing.

Far less shocking than the appealing quirks on “No Fixed Address” is the critical reaction to the album, which as usual has focused on how “fascinatingly average” Nickelback is, to quote a backhanded compliment from Rolling Stone. The new record, agreed the New York Post, is “filled with the same watered-down grunge rock as always.”

The band’s success has obliged observers to pay attention (or pretend to anyway).

But because Nickelback’s value set overlaps only minimally with many of those observers’, the group is actually one that can be hard for certain people to hear. I mean, provided you listen, it’s clear that “No Fixed Address” is just not an average rock album -- at least not by the standards set by, say, Foo Fighters, whose new “Sonic Highways” is way more ordinary than “No Fixed Address.”

Kroeger and his bandmates asked Flo Rida to guest on a song. That’s unusual! They hired a pop writer to deliver a double entendre about an erection. Most rock bands don’t do that!

And they wrote a song questioning the aims of the CIA -- one inspired, Kroeger recently told Yahoo (in an interview that quickly became a source of online amusement), by the ongoing demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo.

Dave Grohl doesn’t have one of those!

Is “Edge of a Revolution” good? Does it lay out a well-reasoned case? It does not.

Nor do its earnest if deeply clumsy words -- “We can’t turn back / We can’t turn away / ’Cause it’s time we all relied on the last solution” -- entitle the members of Nickelback to any kind of special reward for their topicality. Paying attention to the world is what musicians are supposed to do.

Still, let’s get it right.

You may not like “No Fixed Address,” but these guys have given you plenty of fresh reasons to hate them.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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