There is no such thing as a perfect covers album, although Seu Jorge came pretty damn close. Honestly though, the reaction is always the same when a band is about to put out a collection of covers: fans of the band start groaning about it, and people who have always had something against the band use it as a chance to feel validated. Sure, the odd hardcore fan is excited, but that’s definitely the exception and not the rule.
To be fair, history indicates that a cover album is probably going to be average at best and awful at worst. So when Nada Surf announced the intention to release If I Had A Hi-Fi, a covers album, the reaction wasn’t very positive. But this isn’t a typical covers album by any means.
The 12-song album features a few covers from known bands (Depeche Mode, Spoon, Kate Bush), but aside from that the covers come from artists I’m mostly unfamiliar with. There are a few songs here that I absolutely haven’t even heard before. Another couple are actually international songs performed in their own language. It makes for an eclectic listen — something you probably wouldn’t have expected from a covers album.
As someone who curates and puts together tribute nights on a regular basis, I’ve grown to appreciate a great cover. There are several on this collection. But perhaps the best part of If I Had A Hi-Fi is that it’s exactly that, a collection. It feels like a record full of some of the band’s’ favourite songs. This isn’t a cash grab. How many people are running out to buy this album to hear Mecromina being covered? Some, I’m sure, but not that many.
Among my personal favourites is “Enjoy the Silence,” an interesting take that doesn’t stray too far from what Depeche Mode did but definitely gives it a Nada Surf wash that highlights aspects of the songs I never really listened to before. “Janine” by Arthur Russell is just a hair over a minute long, but its beautiful and ends with the lyrics “You were so warm” — which is actually the name of the next cover, by Dwight Twilley; it’s a cool touch if you ask me. Covering Spoon but choosing an obscure song like “The Agony of Lafitte” is an awesome choice, and Nada Surf’s take on it is a delightful listen and highlights a song even hardcore Spoon fans may not be aware of.
If you purchase the vinyl (I did) there is a bonus fourth side featuring two songs. One is called “Conquering Fox” and sees Nada Surf take on a six-minute reggae song in masterful style. You never thought you were going to hear this from Nada Surf, so the first listen is an almost surreal experience, but in time you’ll crave the track. This is a serious secret track as well… my buddy Gorman and I were staring at the vinyl packaging for the longest time trying to figure out which song was the reggae song. I eventually had to go the internet.
A covers album probably won’t finally move Nada Surf out of the criminally under-appreciated category (though it should), but it is just another excellent effort from a band that is always getting better. I can’t wait for a brand new full-length.