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Bring in the party planner

November 18, 2008|Randy Lewis; August Brown


"Dark Horse"


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Nickelback is a lot of things, but dark horse is no longer one of them. The Canadian hard rock quartet said goodbye to that status when 2001's "Silver Side Up" album took the band into multi-platinum territory. The group's follow-up to its 7-million selling "All the Right Reasons" from three years ago is every bit as catchy, with lots more shredding guitar licks planted strategically within hooky rock songs full of bad boys with hearts of gold.

The addition of superstar producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange to the mix ensures that everything here is as radio friendly and mainstream minded as heavy guitar rock gets. If David Cook were an "American Idol" contestant instead of this year's winner, odds are he'd ditch the Switchfoot covers for more Nickelback.

But not "Something in Your Mouth" or "Shakin' Hands," showpieces for more of the band's signature lasciviousness. "Something" objectifies a hottie in a pink thong -- "the honey with a million-dollar body" -- while "Shakin' Hands" celebrates a starlet who "didn't make it this far by just shakin' hands." Illuminating it ain't. But love those gnarly guitar riffs.

It's not that lead singer-shrieker Chad Kroeger and his buds aren't sensitive too. "Gotta Be Somebody" cracks open a window on loneliness as he pines for someone to care for his neglected heart. "There's gotta be somebody for me like that." As long, presumably, as she also looks good in a pink thong.

Lange may have lost it on the home front, but he's still got the magic touch in the recording studio, knowing exactly when a band like this should crank it to 11, when to drop back or out entirely for some welcome sonic space missing from too many hard-edged bands' records.

"If Today Was Your Last Day" brings the requisite party dude's skin-deep philosophizing, but "This Afternoon" closes the album on a refreshingly loose and bouncy slice of pop-rock revelry where there's not a hottie or hooker in sight.

Nickelback ought to spend more time in this part of the day.

-- Randy Lewis


Heavy on plot, light on all else


"The New Game"



The plot of Mudvayne's new album of growly aggro metal reads like a truck-stop Raymond Chandler novel. Someone killed your best friend, and because the small-town cops are useless, it's up to you to find out who did it. The shifty-eyed weed dealer with the simmering vendetta? The tweaking Vietnam vet overly fond of high-school chicks?

One thing Philip Marlowe would not do after a hard day of busting heads and breaking hearts is listen to Mudvayne. Although "The New Game" tries to instill a bit of dread with a goofily sordid narrative, it trawls some pimply musical terrain to get there. The album's gooey, mid-tempo grind at best evokes System of a Down stripped of ambition and eccentricity, and might elicit sympathy with whatever culprit is running around that no-stoplight town.

Mudvayne's oeuvre has long tried to reconcile vocalist Chad Gray's radio-ready inclinations with more menacing instrumental fare. The band should pick one card and play it, as almost tuneful single-bait like "Have It Your Way" and "Scarlet Letters" undermines the gnashing of "Dull Boy," which sounds like having a lukewarm bottle of Bud Lime broken over your skull.

Why this stuff still sells in an otherwise great time for metal is the real mystery here.

-- August Brown

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