Native Tongue is the quintessential Switchfoot album … a pop music smorgasbord.
14 tracks / 52:19 minutes
Switchfoot is back and sounding stronger than ever on Native Tongue, delivering the better part of an hour’s-worth of solid hard-edged pop music that consistently transcends the limitations of the various genre-labels that have been attached to the band. Whether you think of them as Alternative, Post-Grunge, or good old-fashioned Pop, you’ll be able to justify your opinion somewhere on Native Tongue – but this listener hears an under-current of some distinct Classic Rock basics running through the album underneath it all.
With Jon Foreman (guitar, vocals) and his brother Tim (bass, vocals) as principal writers, it becomes obvious that these boys went through the ‘school’ of The Beatles, and learned very well. Aside from genuinely catchy melodies and inventive chord changes, “Dig New Streams” seems to have emerged from some never-released Beatles project that lived somewhere between the White Album and Abbey Road. ”Wonderful Feeling” is a gospelly Bealtle-esque tune with fetching chord changes, a couple of very Ringo-like fills from drummer Chad Butler, and even a hint of George Harrison’s phrasing on the short guitar solo by Drew Shirley. And the lovely, quiet closer, “You’re the One I Want,” certainly shares its tone with Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” For those that are looking for less arcane comparisons (yes, I’m getting old) there’s also a touch of MuteMath on “Oxygen” (I can hear Paul Meany singing that one) and “The Hardest Art” – yes, it’s a duet with Kaela Sinclair, but the tempo and synth-pop sound would fit in with MuteMath’s Vitals vibe.
All of this is not to say that Native Tongue is imitative – far from it! In fact, Switchfoot’s latest is a pop music smorgasbord. Native Tongue features everything that we love about the San Diego quintet: insightful, often poetic and spiritually-informed lyrics, melodic hooks, strong instrumental performances from the band, and - probably the most immediately identifiable element of Switchfoot’s sound - Jon Foreman’s expressive and uniquely identifiable vocals. In fact, Native Tongue is Foreman’s most vocally ambitious project to date, most notably on the impressive “Prodigal Soul,” a strong power ballad that brings Jon into an uncharacteristic falsetto on the chorus. Long-time keyboard player Jerome Fontamillas contributes a bit of a tech vibe to “Voices” and some nice keyboard textures throughout the project. For some raucous rock and explosive drums try the in-your-face “Take My Fire.” It’s all there.
Lyrically, the album is peppered with Biblical allusions that should please old-time CCM fans, while staying oblique enough to intrigue others, allowing The Spirit to lead into deeper things. Along with the expected cries of ‘what’s going on here?’ are positive, uplifting and/or confessional lyrics. “I don’t know what the future holds / but I know You’re my future,” from “Let it Happen” can ride the fence of the romantic or the spiritual but “Come all you worn out, burnt out, sick and tired / Come all you fake, pretentious suit and ties / Come with your filthy hands and your blackened eyes / If you’ve been hurt by the birds and the bees of life / If you’ve been hurt by the church of black and white / Come unto me, find rest, my burden’s light” from “Dig New Streams” is an obvious reference to the Biblically literate listener.
Featuring a universal message of our need for love, Native Tongue is the quintessential Switchfoot album, featuring the band doing what it has always done best. Not a bad come-back for a band that’s been ‘on hiatus’ for a while. Welcome back – the vacation’s done you well.
4 1/2 TOCKS
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