Film review: Hate To Love: Nickelback

Nickelback present an intriguing look at their story and success…

Film review: Hate To Love: Nickelback
James Hickie

“Nobody picks up a guitar to be in the most hated band in the world,” Nickelback guitarist Ryan Peake reveals in this documentary chronicling the story of one of rock’s most successful but reviled acts, which will be shown in UK cinemas for two nights only this week.

Hate To Love: Nickelback reveals the blood, sweat and beers that got the Canadians to where they are today. Watching it makes their story, which began in the sleepy farm town of Hanna, Alberta, all the more impressive – and the derision they’ve received over the years all the more improbable.

Between familial discord, close calls with the law, hailing from a country with a sparse population and extreme weather that made touring a challenge, and countless loans from banks and expectant relatives, it’s fair to say Nickelback didn’t have an easy start. Whatever your thoughts on them, though, it’s impossible to watch this 100-minute film and doubt their work ethic.

It all paid off with How You Remind Me. Despite bassist Mike Kroeger’s reservations about the song being a single, it went stratospheric; at its peak it was played on U.S. radio roughly every three minutes. It also paved the way for the band’s third album, Silver Side Up, to sell 250,000 copies in its first week, despite being released on September 11, 2001.

Commercially, fourth album The Long Road (2003) paled in comparison. The venues decreased in size and the game seemed up. Thankfully, their label at the time, Roadrunner Records – home to a stable of metal bands not too keen on ol’ Nickelback – encouraged them to get back on the horse. They did and made All The Right Reasons, one of the biggest-selling records of all time. The pyro-infused juggernaut of a tour in support of it lasted for 18 months, with family and party tour buses catering for the different lifestyles of the band’s members.

With the surge in success came the backlash. And then some. Nickelback were bashed by everyone from music fans to comedians to The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who as Governor of California listed the band alongside haemorrhoids, root canal and herpes as things the American people prefer to Congress (talk about being damned with faint praise!).

The rise of social media gave the haters new avenues for ridicule, via memes branding them ‘Nickelderp’ and likening Chad’s curly hair to that of a poodle. We’re shown the toll it took. It’s heartbreaking to hear bassist Mike’s son discuss being bullied because of what his dad does.

Part-biography, part-exploration of what it means to be divisive, Hate To Love: Nickelback arguably overserves the latter component – although, admittedly, the depth of feeling the band invites, good and bad, needs some exploration. And there are interesting insights along the way. For instance, Chad is self-aware enough to acknowledge he hasn’t always made things easy for himself. “Life only has to be as difficult as you make it,” he suggests of the added scrutiny of his two-year marriage to fellow Canadian music star Avril Lavigne.

Meanwhile, the band concede some of the criticism levelled at them, to a point, particularly with regards what Mike calls their “stripper anthems” and the more lascivious lyrics. “Sometimes people want to hear vacuous, dumb shit,” reasons Mike.

Chad is similarly philosophical these days. “I play Nickelback songs to Nickelback fans,” he says simply. “They want to hear Nickelback songs – and I want to sing them.” Things venture deeper, too. They reveal that Mike suffered a stroke aged 40 that necessitated him learning to walk again. The bassist now thinks about his mortality, while wondering what Chad thinks about his own, as he genuinely doesn’t know, despite being his older brother. Chad admits the terror he felt when vocal issues forced the cancellation of a large portion of touring a few years back, but little else about what actually makes him tick.

That’s the most surprising thing in this film: despite being such a ubiquitous presence since the early ’00s, Chad remains a mystery – evidently hard living but harder working, loving but something of a loner prone to fragility – even his mother struggles to sum him up.

His final words in the film suggest he’s a man with noble intentions, though. After the band returns to Hanna to play a fundraising show playing covers in their pre-Nickelback guise, Village Idiot, Chad describes his legacy. “I hope that in my time on this planet, I have made some songs that you might enjoy,” he explains simply. “And I hope I’ve made someone’s day just a little bit better.”

Hate To Love: Nickelback shows us he’s certainly accomplished that mission, though despite all the talking heads, we never truly learn at what cost.

Verdict: 4/5

Hate To Love: Nickelback is showing in cinemas March 27 and 30

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