Sound — 8
From reading their press throughout the years, it seems the most common thing journalists bring up when talking about Nada Surf is their 1996 modern rock hit Popular. The kitschy song is admittedly an anomaly in their catalog. It really isn't an indication of what the band is really about musically. Not surprisingly, many of their fans have openly railed against the song since its release. Unfortunately, the general public and many jaded critics have never let the band get out of one hit wonder purgatory. It's too bad because the New York based trio have released album after album of smart, melodic rock for the better part of a decade. Lucky continues the tradition with 11 tracks of infectious six-string jangle and witty observations about adulthood that ranks right along their finest work. Leading off the album with the slow burning sounds of See These Bones took guts. The brooding almost hymnal verses give way to an anthemic coda that while clearly effective, could have been too grand of a statement to open an album with. But instead of going into another melancholic number, the veterans take a 360 degree turn and charge back with the sunnier sounds of Whose Authority. The Teenage Fanclub-like shimmer on this one instantly wins you over and the band revisit the formula a few more times on the record. Beautiful Beat is a clear contender for a single with it's tuneful vocal hooks and '70s A.M. pop informed piano runs. Nada Surf's willingness to throw in stylistic curveballs from time to time shows off their comfort with the material and musicianship. They even tackle country on the Americana flavored Here Goes Something.
Lyrics — 8
Primary songwriter and lyricist, Matthew Caws has a knack for telling compelling stories about life in the city. They're never too clever for their own good and make out like mini-movies of love and the often confusing trials of adulthood. On this new album there are a few songs that shine as brightly as some of his better known work from the past. He approaches the subject of new found fatherhood in Here Goes Something with all the different emotions such a life-changing moment. Being the father of young son, Caws knows how your life can go topsy-turvy when all of a sudden you are responsible for another life. He does the subject justice on this song. He tells a story of a newly sparked romance on the irresistible Are You Lightning? Lines like and so I act like I'm twenty-one, wide-eyed and drifting Mon to Sun, perfectly captures the manic state you go through when love first takes you over. This surely isn't the first time someone has decided to dedicate the entirety of a song to this but it's seldom that is graced with such wit.
Overall Impression — 8
While Nada Surf have broadened their songwriting scope on Lucky, ultimately what they should get applauded for is the consistent quality of their songwriting. What threads this material, and their older output too, is the strength of the arrangements and Caws' distinctive vocal style. It is almost impossible to imagine their brand of guitar-pop without his nasally yet charming tone. I mean, can you picture The One I Love without Michael Stipe's whine? Caws' guitars shouldn't be overlooked here. His playing is a great example of writing parts that serve the song and not the other way around. His clean and chorused guitar tones are spellbinding here. The band also showed their impeccable taste for talent calling in fellow musicians to contribute throughout the collection. Newcomer Lianne Smith lends some gorgeous vocal harmonies on The Film Did Not Go 'Round and UK favorite Ed Harcourt blesses Weighless and Beautiful Beat with his piano. Seattle favorites Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger) and John Roderick (The Long Winters) pitch in on a couple of tracks while Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service) chimes in on See These Bones. Producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Aiden) had his hands full with the array of guests popping in but the results never sound cluttered. With his masterful mixing work here, he essentially became the band's fourth member. The trio had worked with the Washington based producer in the past, at a mixer capacity, and having him steer the ship this time was another masterful move by the band. Whether Nada Surf will win over a legion of new fans from the excellence of Lucky but there is no doubt that they do deserve it.