Monday, November 21, 2011

Lugheads and Lothario

Drake – Take Care (Universal)

Nickelback –
Here and Now (Universal)

Two of Canada’s biggest stars—and two of the most loathsome characters in modern music. This month, their new records came out within a week of each other, allowing the world to compare and contrast the lugheads and the Lothario, two acts who do more damage to this country’s international reputation than the tar sands.

Nickelback haters are legion; look no further than Detroit, where there was a popular petition to stop the band from performing at that city’s Thanksgiving football game. But what’s so loathsome about Drake, you ask? Why, wasn’t he that charming young man who hosted the Junos? Isn’t he a well-adjusted TV star from a tony Toronto neighbourhood? Isn’t Stevie Wonder on this new album? Isn’t his new single with Nicki Minaj, called "Make Me Proud," supposed to be an empowering ode to the fairer sex?

Drake can play the sensitive guy all he wants, but his lyrical output is nothing short of vile, a portrait of a guy who is “addicted to naked pictures and sittin’ talking ’bout bitches,” and who loves breast-implanted strippers even more than Chad Kroeger does. It’s not like he hides this part of his personality: on the first track, "Over My Dead Body" (with music by Chantal Kreviazuk), Drake goes on about his six-figure salary, white women, and gives a bizarre “shout out to Asian girls / let the lights dim sum.” As an opening salvo, it doesn’t bode well. It’s actually one of the better tracks here.

“I don’t make music for niggers that don’t get pussy,” he claims, a throwaway line that would be more offensive if it wasn’t so ridiculous—especially over decidedly unsexy beats. What’s actually offensive is how much insipid whining he does about his broken heart, like a crybaby emo teenager instead of the supposedly macho playa that he pretends to be on 80 per cent of the tracks here. His defenders claim that dichotomy is part of his appeal; mostly he sounds like a two-faced hypocrite. “I know you’ve been hurt by someone else,” he pays his ex-girlfriend Rihanna to croon to him on the title track. I’m sure it wasn’t her idea.

Take Care is one of the most anticipated albums of the year. It’s also by far the dullest: 17 songs of Drake discussing his fame and sexual conquests over hook-less music that’s just as tedious as his so-called rhymes. It’s one thing to make a terrible album; it’s another to make a terrible album that’s interminable.

Drake’s dry delivery throughout—when either singing or rapping—is deadpan, devoid of charisma and impossible to take seriously. That doesn’t stop him from aiming for maximum gravitas at every available opportunity, especially on the eight-minute drunk-dialling epic "Marvin’s Room." It’s ostensibly a Marvin Gaye homage (?) about a jilted lover cursing his ex’s new partner. But the lyrics are downright laughable—he croons softly, R. Kelly style, in the chorus, “fuck that nigger that you love so bad,” calls his lover only after he’s been left alone by all the bitches he invited over to party, and he boasts about having sex four times that week to help him get over his pain and adjust to fame. It’s all made worse by Drake’s earnest, AutoTuned vocals, which shamelessly try to ape his protégé The Weeknd—an artist who, on his own records, nails the fine line between distasteful decadence and self-loathing better than Drake could ever dream of doing. (Plus, Abel Tesfaye of The Weeknd can actually sing.)

So why does Drake get such a free ride, not just from his audience but from respectable mainstream media? Is his million-dollar smile really so blinding that we can overlook his countless shortcomings? Speaking of millions of dollars, listening to Take Care—what a condescending title, by the way—is like enduring 70 minutes listening to Marie Antoinette blather on at the precipice of the French Revolution. After we’re done occupying Wall Street, let’s occupy Drake’s condo: he is the soundtrack of the filthy-rich-and-loving-it “one per cent,” rapping about “me, myself and all my millions”—and precious little else other than what Twitter refers to as #firstworldproblems. Do regular schmoes listen to Drake for the same deluded and self-defeating reason that poor people vote Republican?

Even worse—Drake doesn’t make it sound like his life is any fun at all. Say what you will about Nickelback, they’re having an amazing time being kings of the world and don’t care what you think. What’s shocking on their new album, and to their credit, is that even Nickelback itself is now a bit weary of the tried-and-true formula that’s made so much of their wretched catalogue interchangeable.

Here and Now is ever so slightly more diverse—and even listenable. Granted, it’s certainly hard to take Chad Kroeger seriously as he plays jaunty pseudo-ska on the single "When We Stand Together," singing, “We could feed a starving world with what we throw away / but all we serve are empty words that all taste the same.” Who does he think he is, Sting?

Stephen Harper’s favourite rock band still revel in babes, boobs and beer, extolling the virtues of ladies who are “like a scene from a Baywatch rerun,” who “lick my pistol clean” and who “walk like a model and talk like a trucker.” As far as skeezeball anthems go, "Midnight Queen" is pretty good at sounding like ZZ Top on meth. Meanwhile, piss-up party anthem "Bottoms Up" induces projectile vomiting rather than good cheer.

Nickelback’s popularity should not be a mystery. Kroeger wins those Best Songwriter Junos for a reason: he knows how to write a pop hook, set it to grungy metal riffs, and squeeze every ounce of subtlety out of the result. The 14-year-old AC/DC fan in me is somewhat impressed—by both that and some of the guitar sounds on this record. (Guitarist Ryan Peake has been studying those lightning-fast eight-bar hair-metal solos of the ’80s, and pulls it off.)

As painful as it is to admit, Here and Now is packed with 12 future hits and is probably the best album Nickelback has ever made. Which means you won’t be able to avoid it for at least the next year, if not the rest of your life. You’ve been warned.

1 comment:

Migs said...

Thank you! I never understood the fascination with Drake. None of his lyrics are witty or inspiring, and if you listen to enough of his songs, you'll notice just how vapid they are.

If you want to listen to GOOD Canadian hip hop, please check out Shad. Any of his three albums are leagues ahead of Drake's in everything except production, but he gets little recognition.