Not many one hit wonders are able to have the type of longevity Nada Surf has enjoyed. Never being able to reproduce the success of their 1996 single “Popular” did not stop the group from obtaining critical success with their 2002 album Let Go, 2005 album The Weight Is a Gift, and 2008 album Lucky all achieving stellar reviews. To follow the three successful albums, Nada Surf releases their latest album, If I Had a Hi-Fi.
What separates If I Had a Hi-Fi from Nada Surf’s previous efforts is that the album consists only of cover songs. On the album, Nada Surf covers songs by artists like Depeche Mode, The Go-Betweens, Kate Bush, Spoon, and The Moody Blues among others. What makes the album interesting is that very few of the songs are famous. The most famous track covered on the album is Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” which was released as a single in 1990 and peaked at number 6 on the US charts. Nada Surf gives the track a great twist with lush strings filling out the track’s arena rock sized chorus.
But besides that selection the album is filled with a lot of unknowns. The album’s opening track and first single is a cover of Bill Fox’ “Electrocution”, not exactly a song that burned up the chart. But the purpose of If I Had a Hi-Fi‘s song selection does not appear to be to cover songs that everyone will be able to sing along with but instead to show some of Nada Surf’s more esoteric influences.
Besides just showing off influences, the album also shows sides of Nada Surf never before captured on albums. “Bye Bye Beauté”, originally by Coralie Clement, sees lead singer Matthew Caws take his first recorded attempt at singing in French. Caws’ accent definitely does the chanteuse justice. The band turns the bossanova tune into a driving indie rock jam. Later in the album, Caws proves to be trilingual taking on Spanish covering Mercromina’s “Evolución”. Nada Surf takes the original’s keyboards and replaces them with a string quartet, giving the track a slightly new dynamic. Besides for that one switcheroo, the cover stays fairly faithful to the original.
My biggest problem with the album is that the songs are all right around the same tempo. No track goes over mid-tempo until the third to last song on the album, a cover of The Soft Pack’s “Bright Side” finally breaks the haze and brings up the energy level. The album feels too lackadaisical. Although it does have a couple of bright spots, they feel too few and far between.