So, I’m stranded on a desert island. No, worse: I’m stranded in nothing town in AnyState, where a McDonald’s, a WalMart, and a tired bar with fizzling neon letters constitute the day and night life. The burning question: if I could only buy one album at the WalMart, would it be The Proximity Effect?
Probably not. (Oh, come on. That’s a tough question!) However, I’d hope and pray that the guys from Nada Surf would stop by, so I could get them a few rounds of black and tans at the bar, and dole out the high fives for their solidly rendered, virtuous sophomore effort. You gotta hand it to the guys—though absent from the American music scene for nearly 4 years, they really tie it up neatly on this album, nary skipping a beat. The album, which has been ensconced in legal brouhaha since 1998, emerges now and reeks of integrity and expert musicianship.
For those who remember and enjoy the 1996 single “Popular,” this album will be a welcome mat to an enduring relationship of fandom. Starting with “Hyperspace,” (which at first sounds a little too grungy but then will surprise you with a glockenspiel-esque countermelody) the album rolls into a luscious bouquet of earnest, good-natured rock. There’s something for the whole family here, unless your cousin Fred is an icky, misogynist, bastard asshole. There’re soft, mix-tape worthy ballads, power chords driven by angst, happy-go-lucky party songs, zippy guitars, experimental beats and off-the-wall instrumentation. And, the mood swings! The bleak “80 Windows” is a fucking great song—it makes me want to stare up at my ceiling and contemplate the universe. The next track, “Mother’s Day,” incites me to write my state representative about strengthening rape laws. Track #5, “Troublemaker,” leaves me babbling, fetal and feasting on a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I even sort of like the muddled “Firecracker”—the album’s weakest track—just because I’m ready for a break by then. Whatever they’ve done, it makes me feel schizophrenic. And I like it.
Besides that, the guys just seem, well, really swell. They’re entering music at a confusing, confrontational time, when a lot of old themes are dying out. Boldly, they come back with what’s tried and true, and often forgotten: melodies, lyrics, guitars. And they do it as earnest guys who love their mothers, who fight for what’s right, who can be serious without taking themselves too seriously, who aren’t worried about their images and scared into submission by the corporate machine. Right on to their independent debut! All hail their political underpinnings! Way to go for getting back to their roots! (And, what’s more, I just have a soft spot for guys who aren’t afraid to “ooo.”)
So, since I’m trapped in PoDunk USA, and I bought Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits instead of the Nada Surf album, what should I do? The burning question, part B: do I call up the one radio station and request Nada Surf, repeatedly? You bet.
// Notes from the Road
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