The Weezer wannabe tags were certainly understandable when it came to Nada Surf's debut; besides a similarity of intent (a quick, punchy post-grunge pop/rock album with quick, punchy post-grunge pop/rock songs), the production from Ric Ocasek sealed the deal for many. The fact that the band had been going for a while before Weezer's own 1995 splash seems to have been ignored, admittedly. But if Nada Surf never came up with anything that had the influence and lingering impact of Pinkerton, say, High/Low is a nicely frazzled and fun release that actually bears a little similarity at points to prime Cheap Trick. To be sure, it's not an exact comparison (Caws is nowhere near the singer Robin Zander is, for a start), but in terms of spiky intensity shot through with just enough emotional yearning, Caws has the job down well. His guitar playing does the business well enough, while the Lorca/Elliot rhythm section similarly shows its skill track for track. Elsewhere, Ocasek brings his usual sharp ear to the proceedings, while engineer Bruce Calder does a great job of capturing songs that brim with crackling fierceness and a solid, thick punch in equal measures. "The Plan," with its careening verses offset by Caws' deceptively calm but focused delivery, not to mention sudden midsong shifts down several speeds, and the galloping, downright uplifting yet indecisive "Treehouse" are two good reasons not to dismiss the band or album out of hand. One of the more amusing twists on the proto-emo formula comes with "Popular," which rather than taking the point of view of the wounded outsider talks about the high school winners, a mournful yet crunching arrangement and ranted verses providing the contrast to the wryly deadpan chorus.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett