It’s still hard to believe it has now been 18 years since Nada Surf’s “Popular” graced the airwaves.  In fact, since 2002 (i.e. the last 10 years) the band has done quite well at establishing themselves as one of the finest indie pop rock acts for your money. Let Go is a stand-alone defining moment in their career – from the opening chords of “Blizzard of ‘77” we began to hear what separated Nada Surf from their pop rock leaning mid-level brethren (Semisonic, Matthew Sweet, Gin Blossoms, Lemonheads).

So jump forward to 2012 and the band is on its fourth LP (fifth if you count the If I Had a Hi-Fi covers album) of new material.  It is preceded by first single “When I Was Young” – the longest song on the album, clocking in at 5:18.  The song has everything Nada Surf has banked their sense of pop song structure on; the somber acoustic beginning, orchestral strings in the middle, and a killer guitar solo before repetition of the line “as I grew up, I wondered what was that world I was dreaming of”, fading out in a quiet guitar coda, contemplating the wistful yearning of looking back on the past from an adult hindsight.  “Waiting for Something” has a Fountains of Wayne feel until the guitar solo, which totally recalls The Strokes.

While there is certainly something entirely average about this release as a whole, the songs still stick with you and they are difficult to shake.  “Teenage Dreams” seems to owe just as much to early Oasis or The La’s (perhaps it’s that bass line…) as it does to Imperial Teen (without the female backing vocals).  Album lead-off “Clear Eye, Clouded Mind” is a more cleverly worded reminder of the kind of tunes Better Than Ezra used to write.

Paint me a fan of those dark songs that find the light – such is the case again with “Let the Fight Do the Fighting”. The trumpet solo in the middle fits perfectly. “I won’t argue/let the fight do the fighting/let the right/do the righting now/I can’t have you/even as an enemy/not everything is allowed.” “No Snow on The Mountain” is a rave up that would fit in any club show.  You can see the video shot for this one in the mind’s eye – super 8 footage of their live show, in black and white film (similar in some ways to the video for their ‘Enjoy The Silence’ cover).

In summary, there are several nods to similar bands that both work for and against Nada Surf on this release.  The bottom line is that if you get off on pop rock records that recall the 90’s with hummable choruses that are difficult to shake, then this album is right up your alley.  For me, half the disc features standout tracks while the rest might better be served as b-sides.

Grade: B-

Nada Surf, “When I Was Young” (For all you SOPA haters…)

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