After dalliances with the mainstream and major label disputes in the mid-nineties, alt rock three-piece Nada Surf have experienced a creative renaissance recently, recast as unsung cult icons.
Their sixth studio album, released on City Slang Records to minimal fanfare takes its title from a phrase beloved of singer Matthew Caws’ father. In a sense, it serves as a neat summary of the band’s situation in their 18th year.
They are seemingly indifferent to their standing in the rock canon – an unthinkable attitude during the days of their arch, proto-hipster anthem “Popular” – yet they are making some of the best music of their career, perhaps as a direct result.
The songs on display here are pure panoramic pop, such as a more carefree Foo Fighters and some “Free All Angels” (Ash). There’s even a hint of Phoenix’s Gallic insouciance in the effortless melodies and arrangements. Singer-guitarist Caws may not have the strongest voice but his wide-eyed delivery and exuberance manages to sell even the most standard power-pop arrangement. The band have alluded to their desire to capture on record the enthusiasm whipped up when playing a new song together for the first time and nowhere is this more apparent than on blistering opener “Clear Eye Clouded Mind”.
Elsewhere, first single “When I Was Young” starts off as an acoustic number reminiscent of Big Star or the Go-Betweens, before teetering into a full-blown shoegaze epic, Caws repeating “what was that world I was dreaming of?” in a bittersweet ode to more innocent times.
After such a fantastic start, the album inevitably starts to flag around the midway point. Apart from the surprise trumpet clarion on the lounge-y “Let The Fight Do The Fighting”, the instrumentals hardly stray from the standard rock set-up, inducing involuntary listener fatigue. It’s all very stirring and generally pleasant – and “Teenage Dreams” is a line I think we can all get behind. It’s not until the final track “The Future” that Nada Surf scale the heights of the first few tracks, ending on a definite high.
A solid, occasionally spectacular outing which sanctions their status as rock outsiders – probably their best effort since their masterpiece “Let Go” – you get the feeling they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Listen to lead single “When I Was Young” here