Well, they’ve improved. That was the first thought I had when listening to this re-issue of Nickelback’s first full-length album. It is hard to believe that the guy alternately growling and mumbling on this disc is the same Chad Kroeger that is harmonizing on this summer’s pop anthem “Hero,” from the Spider-Man soundtrack. Like that song or not, at least he shows that he can carry a tune there.

Curb is listenable, with a few exceptions. The title track makes me think of someone learning to drive a stick without a clutch — they keep shifting gears from hard rocking to ballad several times without warning. It is quite a jarring effect. On several other tracks, Chad Kroeger falls into the early-grunge habit of mumbling his words. They may have been saying something meaningful with these songs, but nothing made me want to decipher the lyrics enough to find out. On other tracks he is either shouting or whining (or ending lines with variations of “Yeah”).

Musically, however, the band is in fine form, with Chad’s guitar crunch taking center stage while the rhythm section supports him more than adequately. Both “Little Friend” and “Pusher,” the first two tracks, stand out with a good groove that can really fire you up, with the vocal experiments kept to a minimum. The rest of the tracks fall somewhere between those two and “Curb,” but really blending into one another. While the vocals have improved immensely since this album, it seems like Nickelback knew their instruments quite well when recording Curb.

Curb sounds like a lot of the stuff that was flooding commercial radio in 1999-2000, about the time Godsmack and Saliva were starting to get airplay. Being released in 2002, that would make them two years too late to really capitalize on that power-chord rock that was too heavy for grunge, but too soft for metal. However, since the original release was in 1996, Nickelback was actually about four years ahead of their time. Their recent success has shown their ability to adapt to the changing music styles and produce hit singles. I am easily able to let this disc play in the background while I am playing a game or talking with someone without it annoying me. However, there is really nothing interesting enough to make me stop what I am doing to listen to any single song. Current fans may be interested in hearing how the band sounded some years ago to compare to their current output, but otherwise, there is not much here to recommend.

Roadrunner Records: • Nickelback:

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