Envision the title-card for Eastenders (or any similarly wavy object) and you have a fairly accurate graphical representation of both Nada Surf's artistic direction and their career trajectory.
Observers will cite the brash social-commentary of the emotive "Popular", the rock-driven pleadings of anti-rape anthem "Mother's Day", the awe-inspiring and simultaneously heart-warming and -breaking acoustic breeze of "Inside of Love" (play after the similarly-themed Stain'd track 'Outside' for maximum appreciation) and the modern-day euphoria of "See These Bones" as career highlights. Yet each and every one of the songs reference reside in decidedly diverse musical camps. Just when it looks like Nada Surf have boarded the coach destined for "Acoustiville", they come back with the raucous rock stylings, never chancing a fade into passion-less obscurity.
Hence, it's interesting to see the band draw their own road-map of influences as they take on twelve songs previously recorded by their most revered artists. For those wishing to dig deeper, the bands covered appear in this order: (1) Bill Fox (2) Depeche Mode (3) The Go-Betweens (4) Arthur Russell (5) Dwight Twilley (6) Kate Bush (7) Spoon (8) Coralie Clement (9) Moody Blues (10) Soft Pack (11) Mercromina (12) The Silly Pillows.
That all of the songs sound distinctly their own (with the possible exception of the French-language track "Bye Bye Beaute") is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it at no point presents itself in a mix-tape style, leaping from one sound to another with nothing connecting the dots. Yet it is a curse in that these should be twelve of the greatest alt. indie songs ever recorded, and yet few of them ever properly leap from the page. It seems obvious that the band tried to keep the selections low-key, but for an album comprising beloved tried-n-tested songs, you would be forgiven for expecting something slightly more engaging.
Nonetheless, it is still a consistent package and there are certainly highlights. Their take on Moody Blues, "Question" sounds like a cataclysmic collision between Biffy Clyro and Ash. The symphonic "Evolucion" is doubtless to win a survival-of-the-fittest contest while all comers lie twitching comatose below its sumptuous feet. "Electrocution" recommends itself with a bouncy temperament which could have sprung from any of the last six or seven decades.
Ultimately, this is Nada Surf's love letter to their ancestors and contemporaries, and it serves more as illumination than a compelling addition to their canon. However, all of the songs are retooled well enough that were it not for the miracle of press releases or Wikipedia, few people would know that they're holding a second-hand gem.