March 15, 2003

Nada Surf "Let Go"

Nada Surf were popular. Remember? "I'm popular!" was their MTV cry, ushering in the one-hit nerdboy-wonder era that begat Harvey Danger, Nerf Herder, Barenaked Ladies, Fastball, and White Town. You know the story--label dude hears some local band in a bar, thinks they have what it takes to be the "next big thing," and boom! A few million dollars (and albums sold) later, the label's spent from the talent-rape, leaving the band dropped and record store clerks grumbling when everyone who bought it sells off the only hit album of the formerly "hip" band in order to get store credit for the next big one-hit wonder.

But there's often more to the story, an often unpleasant revelation that we don't like to admit to, much less mention. Okay, let's go there now. Their second album, The Proximity Effect, found Nada Surf trying to follow up their big hit, and it was not very memorable--okay, we're being nice here, it really wasn't good. The lessons the band had to learn had yet to come; perhaps the label had, indeed, been right in balking at this record, because it wasn't going to go anywhere.

Instead of retreading the hum-drum sounds of the past, Nada Surf have looked inward, mellowed out a bit, and have produced their best record to date. Instead of the poppy-rock, their songs are now slowed down; at times, songs like "Killian's Red" and "Neither Heaven Nor Space" sound more than a bit like Coldplay. Heck, the intro to "Inside of Love" sounds more than a little bit like "Yellow," but who are we to judge? Apparently Nada Surf like that kind of thing, and that's what they wanna do.

There are two songs on Let Go, however, that warrant mention, and certainly more than make up for the rest of the album. "Hi-Fi Soul" is a loud, driving number; it has a beat that reminds me of New Order, and it just sounds great on my car stereo. Ditto "The Way You Wear Your Head," which is a powerful modern power-pop song that could easily match anything on the radio today. Both songs have a nice hint of that driving rock sound that really made the Foo Fighters' first album a classic.
It is no accident, then, that their British label, Heavenly, has released both songs as singles; were they still on a megasuperconglomerate label, these songs would be hits. Maybe. Who knows? Either way, both could and should be hits.

Like former labelmates Spoon, Nada Surf need an album to transition themselves. Let Go, while not perfect, is still an excellent album. It's the sound of a band taking stock of what it is that they want to do, and setting forth on a course that compromises little and delivers much. Could they do better? Probably, but then again, why should they? They're doin' quite fine right where they are. In fact, I have a feeling that their next record is going to be utterly massive. Heck, maybe they will be "popular" in the end! In fact, let's close this little review by consulting my shocking accurate and totally trusty Hype-O-Meter Magic Eight Ball. "Do you think that Nada Surf will make up for lost time and become popular with either this new album or their next record?" "All signs point to yes."

--Joseph Kyle

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