Guilty Pleasures, Round One: Nickelback (1) vs. Phish (16)
EW’s Music Mix is searching for the Greatest Guilty Pleasure Musical Act of All Time. With 32 seeded contestants (see all the matchups), this tournament is sure to change hearts, minds, and lives for weeks to come. Read/listen to the following, and then cast your vote in the poll after the jump; reader comments will be used in subsequent rounds, so we encourage you to also explain to the group why you chose the way you did. Note: In case of a tie, please select the artist you feel more ashamed to adore. Thank you.
The problem here really starts with Chad Kroeger’s hair. Stringy, greasy, of a nondescript color, not even ballsy enough to be a mullet; it is, in a word, inexcusable. And what a coincidence — for many people, so is Nickelback’s music, like a room full of exhausted A&R reps listened to a Creed album and said, “Yes, but can we take the edge off?” The guitars are a power-chord cautionary tale. Kroeger’s voice sounds like a broken In-Sink-Erator. Several of their songs are nightmarishly misogynistic. Nickelback is the soundtrack to monster truck rallies, strip clubs, and all-night parking lot benders, the death of discerning taste, the place where subtlety, irony, and artistic expression go to die. The band has sold 30 million records, but I have yet to meet more than one person who will admit to owning one. That one person did not know how to operate a futon.
Blah, blah, blah. Go cry on a Yo La Tengo album, indie snob. I own Nickelback records, and while I might tell myself they’re for “research purposes,” it might also be because sometimes I just want to beat my brain into submission, and the music of the “Canadian Radiohead” is the quickest way to get that done. It’s been nearly ten years since “How You Remind Me” distilled soft-loud-soft-REALLY-loud song structure down to its most violently pure form, and I still know every single word. 2005’s All the Right Reasons spent 156 weeks on the Billboard 200 — ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SIX — because the songs get in your head and will not leave, not even if you beg them to. “Photograph” is not the best song ever by that name, but it is the only one that sends you away wondering what the hell is on Joey’s head. “Animals” captures the specific suburban teenage need to assert one’s independence by driving too fast on the way to contract an STD. I could spend hours trying to determine why/how they managed to channel Seal on “If Everyone Cared”… but I love Seal, too! Everybody cares, everybody wins, nobody dies. If aliens landed on earth and asked us upon penalty of death ray to explain “rock music,” all we’d have to do is turn over the Nickelback greatest hits playlist I’ve secretly got stashed on my iPod, and humanity would be saved. So thanks, Chad Kroeger, and you other dudes whose names I’ve never bothered to learn. Rock on, and don’t ever change. Not that you were going to. — WP
Before you send in that death threat, gimme a second. In order for a band to qualify as a guilty pleasure, they must inspire both guilt and pleasure, right? It’s clear this band has the second base covered — besides the Grateful Dead (whose playbook they obviously purchased at a yard sale at some point in the ‘80s), I can think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened bliss, especially in a live context. In the field at Bonnaroo this summer, I finally understood why noodle-dancing was invented: the rambling travels of Trey Anastasio’s guitar work, the expressive tinkling of Page McConnell’s keys, the unexpected rhythmic and tonal shifts, and the candy-colored light show all begged for different parts of my body to move in different directions at the same time… and I wasn’t on anything stronger than Advil. It felt like watching dozens of bands collide on stage, then settle into a groove from which one group would occasionally burst and assert their individuality. As Carrie Brownstein put it during her brilliant full-immersion Phish project on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog: “At first listen, Phish comes across as a jazzy, jam-based band with leanings toward folk, funk, freak and frivolity (oh, and prog, but that throws off the alliteration). For non-Phish aficionados, here are some base references: Zappa, Beefheart, ELO, Flying Burrito Brothers and Soft Machine. But it’s just as easy to be surprised by a Phish song and have it sound like none of the aforementioned; to hear hints of classical music, the grandiosity of a Who rock opera, or the melodic prowess of Lennon/McCartney (or maybe Garcia/Lesh). If jamming scares you, then Phish’s music will be harder to take.”
As for the guilt, I can also think of no other group that elevates its audience to such a state of heightened defensiveness. Phish fans are notoriously, aggressively protective of their band and their right to obsessively love their band, and will broach no dissent. So what would a mental health professional say? — WP