- The Original
- The War Inside
- Blinding Light
- Selling The News
- Dark Horses
- Rise Above It
- Vice Verses
- Where I Belong
Jon Foreman and the gang have been going at it for fourteen years now with seven full-length albums to their name, along with a smattering of EPs, solo efforts, side projects, and soundtrack contributions. The boys look like rugged and (dare I say?) middle-aged rock and rollers with their long hair, beards, and leather jackets. Could their eighth album have anything left to say?
Like Hello Hurricane two years ago, Vice Verses opens with the tease of guitar feedback, but the song quickly roars out of the gate, making it clear that this is a more energetic version of Switchfoot then we met the last time around. “Afterlife” feels more like “Lonely Nation” or “Stars” from Nothing Is Sound – from the fervent guitar riffs right down to the piano accents. Jon Foreman unloads his challenging, purposeful lyrics: Every day / A choice is made / Every day / I choose my fate / And I wonder why would I wait till I die to come alive…. I’m ready now, I’m not waiting for the afterlife!
The tension between the purpose of this life and the next has been an undercurrent running through Switchfoot’s themes for more than a decade, but the contrast has never been sharper. “Dark Horses” is another distortion-heavy anthem that we haven’t seen from Switchfoot in a few years. “Blinding Light” and “Restless” fill in as requisite power ballads rescued by strong lyrics: I am the thorn stuck in your side / I am the one that you left behind / I am the dried-up doubting eyes / Looking for the well that won’t run dry / Running hard for the other side / The world that I’ve always been denied / Running hard for the infinite / With the tears of the saints and hypocrites.
“The Original” is almost a nod to MuteMath with its tambourines and shuffling bass lines, though I might argue that “No one else can do it – free yourself” is only half true (no other human can set you free, but you can’t do it in your own strength). “Rise Above It” has a bouncy vibe reminiscent of “4:12″ or “Burn Out Bright” from Oh! Gravity. “The War Inside” is another upbeat rock groove with Foreman tackling our inner nature: I get the feeling that we’re living in sci-fi / I get the feeling that our weapons are lo-fi / Ain’t no killer like pride / No killer like I / No killer like what’s inside.
Foreman delivers a scathing rebuke of modern media with an unexpected spoken cadence in “Selling the News” (think Skillet’s “Looking For Angels” but with a lot more urgency on the verses). I’m still not sure how well it works, but it’s definitely something new for Switchfoot, and out of the entire album the catchy chorus has been most often stuck in my head: I wanna believe you, I wanna believe, but everything here’s in between / The fact is fiction! / The fact is fiction!
From the subtle grooving “Thrive” to the Goo-Goo-Dolls-y “Souvenirs,” we float through the album until we get to the subdued acoustics of the thematic “Vice Verses.” It almost feels like an album closer in the vein of “Daisy” or “Let Your Love Be Strong,” but this is not the end.
Finally, we get to “Where I Belong,” a semi-epic closer that is over a minute and a half longer than any song from Switchfoot’s previous seven albums. The sweeping cathartic nature reminds me of the classic “Twenty-four” from The Beautiful Letdown, but with even more power, passion, and – yes – group vocals. I still believe we can live forever, the band declares, echoing a phrase from the opening song with a finality that is a fitting summary of not only this album, but all the ones before it. Yes, Foreman seems to say, I’m challenging you to join me in changing this world and making the most of it (I’m not waiting for the afterlife), but I also know where I truly belong, my true home that gives all the meaning to this temporary one. I’m not sentimental / This skin and bones is a rental / And no one makes it out alive / Until I die I’ll sing these songs / On the shores of Babylon / Still looking for a home / In a world where I belong / Where the weak are finally strong / Where the righteous right the wrongs / Still looking for a home / In a world where I belong.
Overall: This is the face of Switchfoot in a new decade. It’s the dark rock vibe of Nothing Is Sound meeting the anthemic ballads of Hello Hurricane with a little bit of the experimental spunk of Oh! Gravity mixed in, and this might be the band’s most cohesive release since The Beautiful Letdown. We know where Switchfoot has come from and where they are going as they challenge us to embrace the tensions of life through their matured rock and roll sound that is equal parts passionate energy and confident restraint. Let’s go boys, play it loud…