It seems like American band Nada Surf have been around longer than commercial flight travel but for some reason they’ve never really taken off, their 1996 summer hit Popular being both their own commercial peak and most people’s recollection of a band that have – 75% of at least – been together since 1995, three years after their original line-up was formed.
In 2012 they saw the arrival of ex-Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard take their membership to four, and in the same year an unlikely album of covers – If I Had A Hi-Fi – piqued some interest, not least because of their excellent cover of Depeche Mode’s synth-pop anthem Enjoy The Silence. Admittedly flying somewhat under the radar since the 1990s though, it may be surprising that You Know Who You Are is their eighth studio collection, with perhaps 2002’s Let Go and Lucky from 2008 being of most interest to anyone caring to delve into their undervalued back catalogue.
Releasing a covers album normally signifies the death knell for a band, but in Nada Surf’s case it pre-empted a new lease of life, perhaps due to the freshness injected by Gillard’s inclusion, with 2012’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy confirming this was a band with life in them yet, and the new offering provides confirmation that they are far from being finished.
Opener Cold To See Clear is a gloriously anthemic, feel-good adrenalin rush of fist-pumping splendour in the power-pop vein: “I don’t mind if it’s raining,” sings Matthew Caws, and its optimism is infectious as the album enjoys its most impressive moment. That said, what follows might not quite match its lead track, but it pleases in various ways.
There are more high-octane rushes like New Bird, where summery, invigorating vocals combine with vibrant percussion for an Ash-like cut whilst the title track feeds off the same power source, albeit for a fleeting couple of minutes.
Believe You’re Mine recalls Thirteen Senses if the amplifier projecting the piano element was on low; radio ready efforts Out Of The Dark and Rushing then hold the centre of the album together nicely. The former reminds of Tom Petty with an added boost of brass amid a genuinely uplifting foot-tapping stomp and the inoffensive, middle of the road soft-rock continues into the latter, where you will find one of the album’s catchiest choruses.
Another foray into the realms of infectious bewitchment arrives through closing track Victory’s Yours whilst Animal could sound like a gentle, country-tinged acoustic version of The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women to those of a certain age, at least for its intriguing verses. But it’s possibly Friend Hospital that will please others most, a slower, brooding cut built around a chunky minor key guitar riff with a short but compelling guitar solo at its heart as Caws continues to look on the bright side with lyrics such as “so much better we are not together”.
It’s hard to pin down why Nada Surf haven’t enjoyed as much success as they probably should have over the years. Perhaps their timing has never been quite right, initially arriving in the departure lounge just as their flight left the runway maybe and unable to shake off the burden of the ironically named Popular. It seems as if You Know Who You Are is a shrug of the shoulders, a ‘let’s get on with it regardless’ statement instead of letting themselves get hung up over near misses and spluttering to a mid-air stalling. Instead they’re very much still soaring amongst the clouds. Long may they continue.