Daughtry and Nickelback fighting the good fight for Team Rock
Both bands are committed to the cause, and both have released albums on the same day. Too bad they’re up against the latest from pop princess Rihanna.
“Heard that song on the radio,” Chris Daughtry sings on the new album by his platinum-selling rock band, Daughtry, “and it got my gears turning like a real-life time machine.” The words come from “Louder Than Ever,” a crunchy, guitar-heavy number in which the former “American Idol” finalist chews over his memories of an old romance: He and his lover were “two hearts on the getaway” — the very embodiment of “young love on the freeway” — and a chance encounter with their favorite tune now has him reliving “those nights [they] used to sing along.” It’s sweet.
Yet as a track on one of 2011’s highest-profile rock releases, “Louder Than Ever” seems to long for more than just a faded affair. When Daughtry slides into the chorus and sings, “Those days might be gone,” it’s easy to imagine him mourning the death of mainstream rock itself; he’s lamenting the end of an era when a crunchy, guitar-heavy number was likely to crop up on the radio in the first place.
Several of the songs on his album feel this way, and the histrionics aren’t without basis. According to a report published in Billboard last month, only one rock release was among the 10 top-selling albums through the first three quarters of 2011. (That release was “Sigh No More” by the bookish Brit-folk outfit Mumford & Sons, a group whose relation to rock may exist solely in the minds of its members.)
At press time, Coldplay had established a berth inside iTunes’ top 10 with “Mylo Xyloto” — on which, it’s worth noting, frontman Chris Martin performs a duet with the dance-pop star Rihanna. But it was at No. 7, well behind Drake, Adele and the kids from “Glee.”
Maybe this challenging environment is what led Daughtry to issue its album, tellingly titled “Break the Spell,” on Monday — the same day as “Here and Now,” the latest from Canada’s Nickelback. Both acts are among the genre’s biggest, with tens of millions of albums sold between them; each has reason to believe in its chart-topping ability. But they seem to have teamed up in an effort to rally rock fans, to provide a reminder of the days when beefy guys in Hanes Beefy-Ts dominated the marketplace. They’re taking one for Team Rock — a purely symbolic gesture, perhaps, given the likelihood that Rihanna will keep both groups out of the top spot with her new album, “Talk That Talk.”
On “Here and Now,” Chad Kroeger and his bandmates (none of whom you’d recognize if you saw them on their own) appear fully committed to the cause: This is post-grunge rock at its most elemental, with chunky guitar riffs laid over lock-step rhythms seemingly designed to encourage arenas full of people to stomp along. (“No one can divide us when the light is nearly gone,” Kroeger sings on the Nickelback album’s lead single, “When We Stand Together.”) It’s solid, well-made stuff, but “Here and Now” too often feels circumscribed by responsibility; any album with a song called “Bottoms Up” should be more fun to listen to than this one is.
Nickelback detractors — and there are plenty — insist that the band has never had a sense of humor. Yet that’s demonstrably untrue: “Photograph,” from 2005, is a comic miniature on par with the work of Tenacious D. And Nickelback’s last album, 2008’s “Dark Horse,” had a sonic wit attributable to some degree to its legendary producer, Mutt Lange. Here, though, Kroeger never sounds like he’s having the good time he’s describing — even (or especially) when he’s offering up one of his many, many euphemisms for oral sex.
Daughtry packs more exuberance into “Break the Spell,” partly as a result of his superior singing. But for all his rock nostalgia, he sounds more open to outside influence too, and that keeps the music relatively light on its feet, as in “Crawling Back to You,” a luscious power ballad with traces of spacey synth, and “Crazy,” which you could imagine Taio Cruz or Jason Derulo singing in a different arrangement.
Purposefully or not, those other flavors also bring Daughtry’s songs more closely in line with tunes from the glory days he sings about missing: pop- and soul-aware material by Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses and Def Leppard. Back then, rock acts didn’t worry about needing to defend their turf, which made people want to join them. Could it be that the only thing rock has to fear is rock itself?
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Chris Daughtry Credit: Getty Images