With the group’s latest effort, Interrobang, it seems as if they’ve found a solid musical identity that I, for one, would be happy to see them keeping - at least for a while...
Label: Fantasy Records
11 tracks / 43:30
Being a band with a line-up more stable than most, Switchfoot certainly has evolved intentionally - and with the group’s latest effort, Interrobang, it seems as if they’ve found a solid musical identity that I, for one, would be happy to see them keeping - at least for a while. It sounds as if Switchfoot has spent some time immersed in the history of 60s and post-60s rock. Certainly, the spirit of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Daniel Amos, and even the late (but contemporary) MuteMath inhabit Interrobang, from the somewhat psychedelic opening track, “Beloved,” to the heavily Beatles-influenced closer, “Electricity.” In between are nine songs filled with intriguing lyrics, often sparse soundscapes that open up without warning to glorious rock and roll textures, and wonderful, human-sounding back up harmonies. You can even hear a little Rolling Stones in the rhythm guitar of the infectious “If I Were You,” which declares in the lyrics, “hey, babe - we’re the dinosaurs / I get the feeling we’ve been here before” - well, maybe they’ve done some excavating, but if these are dinosaurs, call me a caveman because I’m digging it.
This ‘new’ Switchfoot takes full advantage of the uniqueness of Jon Foreman’s somewhat quirky vocal style. The singer’s voice is absolutely up-front on every track, confessing longing, relationship issues, and of course probing the subject of love and its mysteries. Foreman’s voice is the definition of vulnerable, and would probably never be accepted by the high school choir director - yet over the years he’s mastered the art of instant communication with a vocal delivery that’s become a perfect vehicle for rock and roll. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but his voice, so prominently featured, certainly elevates this album into something special. This might just be Foreman’s best vocal performance ever. Thanks go in part to the wonderful production of Tony Berg, who also produced for no less than Squeeze (Play, 1991), which makes an awful lot of sense given the aural space he puts between the instrumental elements on Interrobang. It all comes together to amazing effect on “Fluorescent,” if you’re looking for some proof. Berg even makes the spaces between the tracks interesting, with occasional sound effects bridging the gaps and unifying the whole sound of the project.
It’s not all style over substance for Interrobang - the eleven songs are all very well crafted - no filler here. The songs, whether slowly-paced or frantic, are full of great hooks, crisp playing, and insightful lyrics. Jon’s brother Tim does a fine, clean job on bass, Chad Butler simplifies the drumming, making it more functional than ornamental (and does some very Ringo-like playing on a couple of tracks), Jerome Fontamillas provides fine keyboard work, contributing some atmospheric synth effects, and Drew Shirley lays down some great foundation playing on guitar - all band members join in on background vocals - which are spectacular in places - with Tim’s singing occasionally sounding so much like a cleaner, ‘prettier’ version of his brother’s voice that it’s a shock to the system.
The lyrics are often full of regret and self-examination. “who can take these broken splinters from my head?” asks Foreman in “Splinter.” “The Hard Way” and “Backwards in Time” are thematic companion pieces. “Wolves” is a minor mix of cello, synth, and rock band, ending in a nightmare waltz - but what would you expect from a song that begins with the words, “evening when the wolves come out / I’m a gloomy soul and I hear them howl...” Don’t despair, though - there is romance as well, in songs like “Electricity”: “so let’s shut up the phone for the rest of the afternoon / I don’t need nobody right here right now - but you.”
Interrobang is a really fine addition to Switchfoot’s catalog - a treat for long time fans and an album that should resound well with any fan of modern pop/rock. Oh -- and just what does ‘Interrobang’ mean? It’s a question mark and an exclamation point. And so is this music.
- Bert Saraco
4 1/2 tocks
You can see concert photography by Bert Saraco (including Switchfoot) at the link below.