Not many bands have found staying power on the strength of a novelty single (“Popular”), much less one that hit during the alt.rock bubble of 1996. There’s a reason you probably haven’t heard the Primitive Radio God’s new stuff. But seemingly out of nowhere in 2002 Nada Surf made a Flaming Lips-style turnaround with the critic community. Let Go, Nada Surf’s first album in four years, was near the top of most “best of” lists, and the band was revered for its turn from post-grunge flame-outs to power-pop high-flyers.
Nada Surf tries to emulate this success in The Weight is a Gift, its first release since Let Go. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the album’s vocals and arrangements, and some of the songs are even really catchy. There’s just nothing that would cause Chris Carrabba to blush, keep Wayne Coyne intrigued or make Dave Grohl envious. The main problem here is the theme — the weight would have been a gift had there been some. Maybe a weight room would have been a nice gift.
There is evidence that the band is capable of crafting dense pop songs. The backing guitar on “Concrete Bed” and the thick bass line of “Do It Again” are capable of filling a room with sound (although not approaching My Bloody Valentine’s level), and you’ll definitely smile at the drawn-out, harmonized backing vocals of “Blankest Year”: “Fuck yeeaahh!” But tracks such as “All Is a Game” and “Comes a Time” evaporate before hitting the wall. The band keeps pulling back at the wrong times and misses countless opportunities to move in for the kill. Just because Let Go confirmed the members of Nada Surf can create decent pop songs doesn’t mean they should keep replicating the formula. I can urinate at a stall with my hands on my hips, but the result lacks direction and looks funny.
The Weight is a Gift isn’t completely harmless, but unless a pop album hits you quickly, what’s left? I suppose those who purchase the album will be doing it to get a Teenage Fanclub-style fix, not for the weight, mass or density of it. These people will probably be thrilled with the quality of the pop on such a nice album. I see it as the cinematic equivalent of Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio: The album desperately wants to be hugged and passes on the opportunity to hit with the impact of a Clint Eastwood euthanasia manifesto. I’m genuinely happy for those who will be touched by this album. They’ll have great memories of how happy they were listening to Nada Surf in 2005, whereas I’ll go back to bathing in sin.