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What Happens When You Actually Listen to a Nickelback Album Front-to-Back?

Hating Nickelback is reflexive for many of us. It's become one of those comforting mass-culture validations, like praising the Dalai Lama or distrusting people with Hotmail accounts.

This groupthink methodology has an obvious flaw: The conclusions, though potentially valid, are also quite empty. I've never actually listened to a Nickelback album. I can name only two of their songs at most. Yet I loathe them down to my very marrow.

It occurred to me recently that the loathing I feel for Nickelback isn't really mine; it's secondhand loathing, a meme borrowed from surrogates and thought-leaders who've actually had to suffer through a Nickelback concert or album. Having acknowledged this, I find that my reflexive hatred of all things Nickelback feels cold and illusory. I no longer derive pleasure from it.

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Nickelback is scheduled to perform on Friday, October 29, at Cricket Wireless Pavilion.

I must earn my Nickelback hatred the only sensible way: By listening to a Nickelback album. So into the breach we go.

NICKELBACK INTAKE TRIAL (10/20/10)

Time: 11:54 a.m.

Items: MacBook, illicitly downloaded CD copy of 2005's All the Right Reasons (the band's highest-selling album), Kleenex (unscented), amyl nitrate "poppers" (4-pack).

(Trial begins)

11:55: Insert CD into computer. MacBook asks me whether I'd like to download the album onto my iTunes library. Choking down a small amount of bile, I swiftly hit the "No" button and get busy Nickelbackin'.

11:56: Amid a flurry of high-hats and machine gun percussion, the album's opening track, "Follow You Home," fills my ear buds. Not horrible. Sort of Metallica-esque. It seems to be a song about stalking a noncompliant woman. Ooh-rah.

12:01: Track 2: "Fight for All the Wrong Reasons." On this one, lead singer Chad Kroeger sings about getting over a contentious romance: "Guess it wasn't / Wasn't meant to be" and so on. Sounds like James Hatfield with a nasal infection. I soldier on.

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12:05: "Photograph" is next. Listening to this song is like confronting a childhood tormentor. Truly horrendous. I remember it vaguely from some lame mid-decade TV commercial — maybe Budweiser or T-Mobile. In fact, that's when I really started hating Nickelback. Jesus, what a breakthrough!

12:09: My face starts to itch slightly on "Animals." Ow, the banal sex metaphors — they sting!

12:14: Are we really only five songs in? This one is called "Savin' Me" and it's quintessentially Nickelback — an artless mix of sentimentality, self-pity, and stage rage. I imagine it being played at after-school progressive Christian activity groups. The horror.

12:18: The next few songs come on like a painful cramping episode. Time slows. Shakes. Hallucinations. On a track called "Next Contestant," Kroeger imagines himself as a seething young man who impotently watches other men grope his girlfriend. I try to imagine Leonard Cohen singing it, and briefly black out.

12:30: Like a capsule of smelling salts, the following lyric snaps me back to lucidness: "If they loved like you and me / Imagine what the world could be." Actually, that's a very nice sentiment. So pure. So hopeful. I'm floating now. Up, up, into a cherry ice cream sky. Whee!

12:34: Another stalking song: "Someone That You're With." Nickelback has sold 21 million albums in the United States, mostly by singing about stalking. That means something.

12:38: Finally, the omega of Nickelback hate: "Rock Star," a pseudo-country toe-tapper about the narcotic pitfalls of fame. It's sort of like a Toby Keith song, but with less of Toby's trademark subtlety and impressionism. With lyrics about "drug dealers on speed dial," it's an attempt at withering sarcasm, I imagine — but then why did Nickelback star-fuck Pam Anderson and a bunch of other real-life celebrities in the music video? The answer: Because they're Nickelback.

12:42: Record ends. I, too, have now been to the bottom of every bottle. Nickelback hatred: validated.

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