if i had a hi-fi
By Al Kaufman
The title of Nada Surf’s CD of cover tunes, if i had a hi-fi, sums up the theme. The title is about wanting and about music. In addition, it’s a fun palindrome. So goes this unexpectedly delightful collection.
The chosen songs on hi-fi are an eclectic mix of songs that explore the meaning of life and other depressing themes. They overlay these songs with rich, full melodies, making the deep and depressing fun and festive. “I wouldn’t mind if I could find a little electrocution,” sings Matthew Caws on the Bill Fox cover, “Electrocution.” Yet with Yardbird-like jangly guitars and vocal harmonies, the lyrics sound positively uplifting. The same can be said for the Go-Betweens’ “Love Goes On!,” Dwight Twilley’s “You Were So Warm,” and many others.
While covers of Depeche Mode (“Enjoy the Silence”), Kate Bush (“Love and Anger”) and Spoon (“The Agony of Laffitte”) may get the most ink, it is the inclusion of lesser known works, such as their magnificent cover of the Muslims’ (now the Soft Pack) “Bright Side,” that makes this CD shine. The one thing that can be said about Nada Surf on their debut release on their own label is that they are not afraid to take chances. They sing in French on Coralie Clement’s “Bye Bye Beaute” and Spanish on Mercromina’s “Evolution,” and their version of the Moody Blues’ most schizophrenic song, “Question,” is ambitious and may actually rock harder than the original.
Yes, there are some misfires here; the Spoon cover and the closing instrumental “I Remember What I was Going to Say,” from the Silly Pillows (in which Caws’ sister, Hilary Caws-Elwitt is a member) comes immediately to mind. But overall this is a great summertime record, with sunny melodies, great harmonies and meaningful lyrics. It’s been 14 years since Nada Surf’s geek rock hit, “Popular,” hit the charts. After a long battle with their former record company, Elektra, and no hits later, it is surprising to many that the group is still around. But they are because they are a smart group with a great sound. If they continue to make music like this they are all but assuring that they will stick around for at least 14 years more.