Review Summary: There's nothing Lucky about it; Nada Surf hit the mark with their fifth studio album, where consistency meets excellence.
They'll tell you that change is a dangerous thing, that bands are often hesitant to approach it, and that the fans are usually skeptical about the idea of any new direction. But sometimes, change is easy
. Nada Surf, over the course of their existence, have attracted their fair share of de
tractors for both a lack of consistency in terms of quality and an overdose of consistency in terms of musical ideas. Formed in 1992, they hit it pretty big with 1996 semi-anthem 'Popular' and since then they've been putting out set after set of harmless, bouncy indie-pop songs, but they've seen criticism for their single-minded approach. By 2002 most bands would have broken, succumbed to pressure and played double or quits, but to Nada Surf this idea clearly seemed rooted in the artificial; they stuck to their guns and delivered Let Go
, more jangly pop-rock from the same place on the radar as what came before it.
But if there's one thing Nada Surf have achieved over time, it's to remove the padding from their records and replace it with substantial, important pop songs in the context of the record. So 2008's Lucky
sees them plying their trade in as workmanlike a fashion as ever, just with a far better hit:miss ratio than ever before. Melodic and largely major acoustic guitars winding uncomplicated time signatures around plugged-in ones and a background rhythm section which succeeds in rendering what comes in front of it senselessly upbeat; vocalist Matthew Caws' lyrics are pretty, quotable and even somewhat inspirational, but they're hardly deep. These songs mean something, but they don't mean everything. And that's pretty much how Nada Surf are best viewed.
There are issues here, for sure. Sometimes it's all a bit too straightforward, and stand-out 'I Like What You Say' would benefit from awareness of that problem; other times, like on penultimate track 'The Fox', it becomes obvious that experimentation would never be the group's forte anyway, when the record's least accessible track falls flat within stuttering reverb and ambiguous lyrics; for all its intrigue, it abandons the group's usual touchstones entirely and has nothing to really grab onto. But these are minor faults in a sea of excellence - opener 'See These Bones' begins with a picked electric guitar and transitions through three different hooks before its climax sees them all come together. It's hardly the most complex harmony work or layering ever set to record, but it's an aural orgasm. And 'Weightless' possesses true energy and momentum courtesy of its distorted riff, then fades into a meandering outro to set up slower, nostalgic number 'Are You Lightning'.
Don't get it twisted; change and experimentation are unequivocally admirable traits in musicians. We'd be nowhere if it weren't for the pioneers. But Nada Surf don't give a damn about where we are. They're a band that started writing music a long time ago for a specific audience and a specific reason, and those things remain constants 17 years later. Their progression is like a damn straight road with very few junctions that started off a dirt track and has become, over time, smooth tarmac. And you know the best thing about a straight road? You can take your hands off the wheel, close your eyes and let the airy melodies take your breath away without ever being worried about crashing. And if you did crash, Nada Surf would probably be your airbag anyway.