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Dark Horse

By Hunter Embry

Nickelback is today's hard rock household name. Every family's adolescent hard rocker knows Nickelback well. They either love the band because of their songs usually a bit too rough for their parents or they hate them because they're not on the newest trends. Either way, chances are all those kids dug a Nickelback song at some point and even greater odds say they own at least one album. The band is rebounding from their chart-crushing All the Right Reasons, which has sold more than seven million copies in the states.

Black Horse, the band's sixth studio album, with its unfitting title, again displays the band's genre-setting hard, pop-rock sound. Nickelback has fathered bands like the more recently successful Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace, but Black Horseprovides a solid set of songs bound by singer Chad Kroeger's corny lyrics.

The opener, "Something in Your Mouth," is based around a sweat-slinging hard rock riff, huge drums and cool effects, but is tainted by Kroeger's lyrics, which talk to a woman who is better when she's suckin' on his thumb. To the song's and album's credit, the band's musical direction impressively sticks to the group's Canadian roots and still manages to pick through other styles previously unexplored.

Dark Horsewas recorded in a Vancouver barn (now a studio) under the direction of big name producer Robert Lunge, who helped catapult the career of Def Leppard and re-energize AC/DC in the 1980s. Lunge's influence can be heard most on songs like, "Just to Get High," where Kroeger sings stories of a drug addict who ends up dying (who would've thought?). The track is a slow tempo, '80s stadium anthem complete with Phil Collins-esque drums, big reverbed guitars and thumping bass lines.

The production and engineering on "S.E.X." is impeccable, with teeth-gritting riffs that dig into the side of an earth-quaking bass tone, which breaks only to a breath-stealing drumbeat and rambling vocal line. But Kroeger manages to tear the song apart with his lyric that turns the word "sex" into an acronym.

The album continues to hopscotch across songs that explore heavy, blues-rock riffs stamped by Def Leppard-esque choruses ("Shakin' Hard"), sickening metal guitars that keep a massively simple drumbeat from ripping apart the speakers ("Burn it to the Ground") and, of course, there are the traditional Nickelback ballads. But even the those tracks aside from Kroger's vocal performances experiment with danceable jams drenched in a U2 vibes ("Gotta Be Somebody") and acoustic crowd-swayers that shake things up with a Latin style bongo part ("This Afternoon").

With Dark Horse, Nickelback sticks in a familiar arena of pop sound, while creatively introducing itself to several other genres, but Kroeger's lyrics, never too original, sink to an all-time low. Maybe he spent too much time on the music and abandoned that crucial element in pop-rock. Then again, they have been sitting in Billboard's Top 30 list for more than two years. Good luck trying to call out the Canadians on something that has worked so well.

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