Nickelback and Daughtry both present a baffling contradiction: Each is staggeringly popular and nearly invisible. When they do pop up on the cultural radar, it’s because of situations like Nickelback’s upcoming Thanksgiving halftime performance for the Detroit Lions, which caused football fans to circulate petitions begging for somebody, anybody to play instead. Mostly, they quietly sell millions of albums and no one is the wiser.
That’s not likely to change with Nickelback’s “Here and Now’’ (Roadrunner) and Daughtry’s “Break the Spell’’ (19 Recordings/RCA), both albums released yesterday in a baffling sales showdown. (Surely each would do better with its own uncrowded release window.) Neither is a change of pace, and neither will give you any new information. If your mind’s already made up about these bands, these albums won’t move it one micron.
In the case of “Here and Now,’’ that means everything’s an assault, including the ballads. Opener “This Means War’’ is spoiling for a fight, but there’s no specific grievance; the band just wants to kick the tar out of someone. Singer Chad Kroeger sounds just as angry getting loaded in “Bottoms Up,’’ which is as joyless a portrayal of hard-drinking partying as has ever been done by someone who wasn’t explicitly trying to capture the irony of the situation.
Attempts at introspection fare no better. The hypocritical and pandering “Kiss It Goodbye’’ rails against dehumanizing cities New York and Los Angeles; it’s like Mötley Crüe singing “Girls, Girls, Girls’’ and then turning around to write a song about how shallow and phony everyone in LA is. By the time they shoot for sensitivity on “Trying Not to Love You’’ and “Holding on to Heaven,’’ there’s no sympathy left.
Daughtry’s third album begins the same way as “Here and Now’’: a fade-in followed by slash-pound riffing and a singer in a distinctly oppositional mood. Crucially, however, “Renegade’’ isn’t immediately antagonistic to whoever’s listening but is inclusive, us-against-them instead of me-against-you.
Unlike Nickelback, Daughtry offers recognizable human emotions, even if they are rendered clumsily. Where Nickelback turns ugly as soon as women show up - one lyric about a pistol is neither subtle nor clever, just a crude, mean half-entendre - Daughtry is riddled with self-loathing. “You’re not crazy for leaving, just crazy for staying so long’’ goes one chorus, and the band has no problem with the supplication of “Crawling Back to You.’’
But if “Break the Spell’’ is a less deadly (and less metallic) plod than “Here and Now,’’ it is actually duller. The fist-pumping earnestness of the Bon Jovian “Spaceship’’ is less objectionable and far more bland. Say this about Nickelback: It knows what works. And with negative reviews both inevitable and irrelevant, why change now?Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com.