Fading West, Switchfoot continue to seek out fresh soundscapes. Sometimes it produces classics, but are there enough classics underneath the fine dressing?

lowercase people / Atlantic Records
11 tracks / 43:31 minutes


These are tricky times for Switchfoot. Frontman, writer and heart of the band, Jon Foreman has several creative outlets, including his successful solos albums and superb work with Fiction Family. These suit his quieter and more left-field urges, so leaving his more straightforward rock songs for Switchfoot – but the band also has to take risks, or each release will become too similar to the rest, to the detriment of the whole catalogue.

Their last album Vice Verses got everything just right: it had their strongest set of songs since Beautiful Letdown, which came out a century or two back; and they took a few well-judged productions risks to keep it fresh (leaving the awful decisions for the Vice Re-verses re-mix).

For better or worse, this release has been deeply influenced by the experience of making it alongside the Fading West documentary. The idea was to rediscover their heart as a band, or as they put it, "How do we go to a new place that feels like home?" The answer was partly to rediscover their roots and go surfing again (their name is a surfing term). This comes out in "Back to Beginning Again," which probably works well in the soundtrack edition, and in lyrics like these from the adrenalized "Saltwater:"

"It's an abstract thought but I've been thinking non-stop
About the fact that my body's made most out of rain drops
With a saltwater heart."

The only thing that is really different here from usual is the extra layers – usually treated vocals, shown so clearly on "Love Alone is Worth the Fight" – that wrap around the sound, often where guitars would normally have been, giving the impression that if you turned down some sliders on the mixing desk, this would sound like something they made five years ago. Some ("Slipping Away"and most of "Let it Out" ) ignore much of the extra treatment and are regular fillers.

Foreman develops the spoken word stylings he played with on Vice Verses, bringing a white-rap feel to "Who We Are" (before a children's choir comes in on the chorus) and early parts of "Saltwater;" while his strong rhythmic and verbal sensibilities add edge to the whole collection.

Foreman is impassioned in advocating both integrity and love. As human nature is so fickle and fragile, he will probably need to keep singing about these things for the rest of his career, so expect to find snippets throughout these songs that could have been cut from earlier albums, both lyrically and in their melodies.

Some of those earlier discs would have benefitted from this project's emphasis on production. The band has clearly enjoyed their time in the studio and finally found the range that Foreman manages in his solo work.

So while the dressing is fresh, their core concerns remain: living life authentically; persevering with love; coping with endemic character flaws and making the most of our shot at life.

"We're only here for a season
I'm looking for the rhyme and reason
Why you're born, why you're leaving
What you fear and what you believe in."

Many lines in "The World You Want" could be from Letdown and the call for authenticity "You start to look like what you believe..." is well-expressed yet again (although it loses a little edge from being another case of "Can we please be on your next album, Dad?")

"All or Nothing at All" is a fine grower, but two tracks stand out for me. "Say It Like You Mean It" is another where their recent-U2isms produce great sounds. Distorted vocals, background electronica, bass fills and electronic snares all build what is already a strong song. It would fit beautifully on Vice Verses and the psychedelic final minute is a real bonus.

At gut level, the excellent "BA55" is up there with any of their tracks. A simple, insistent bass riff threads through a maze of added sounds and Foreman's cry, "I want a fire that could burn me clean... And let my soul fly" sears its way into the mind before a swarm of ambient effects warm the piece through to the end. File alongside other classics like "Dirty Second Hands."

Overall, this has much more colour than the early and mid-period Switchfoot, but despite the fine production work, there are not quite as many compelling songs here as on either of the last two releases.

4tocksDerek Walker

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