Album: New Way to Be Human
Label: Re:think Records
Release Date: March 23, 1999
Review by: Michael Mayer III
- New Way to Be Human
- Sooner or Later (Soren’s Song)
- Company Car
- Let That Be Enough
- Something More (Augustine’s Confession)
- Only Hope
- Amy’s Song
- I Turn Everything Over
- Under the Floor
Switchfoot return with their second album, New Way to Be Human. The lineup was the same with no new additions yet as they released their final album of the 90’s. Right off the bat they establish that they’ve made some minor tweaks to their sound, but the sense of humor and bass grooves are all still there. The title track opener starts things off right and is easily one of the best songs on the album. Tim’s infectious bass playing is in the forefront and they pull out a few other instruments to make things sound almost humorous.
From the sound of it I’d say they had some fun in the studio as they recorded this track and this album as a whole. A quick look in the liner notes shows a wide range of instruments from a tenor sax and trumpet to a cello and bass clarinet as well as flutes. They all add a texture to the songs, sometimes so subtle that you don’t notice them in the first few listens. Once you do you gain a greater appreciation for what you are hearing and that this isn’t your typical ‘guitars, drums, and bass’ band writing typical rock songs.
That being said, those slow, powerful tracks with string arrangements are back. This time they are better than ever and could probably move one to tears. ‘Only Hope’ may be the best song they’ve written up until this point in their career and it’s also their most spiritual and worshipful one. Jon sings of giving everything to God, knowing He is his only hope. ‘Amy’s Song’ is another fantastic track with some great acoustic guitar playing by Jon, once again made strong by the backing beat and his soothing vocals. I do feel ‘Only Hope’ would have made a better closing song than ‘Under the Floor’ but it fits where it’s at behind the quirky rocker ‘Something More (Augustine’s Confession)’.
Of course, for every song like that you have one like ‘Company Car’ which has one of the greatest analogies I’ve ever heard in a song. It is a lyrical achievement for Jon as he sings about those who seek status in society and lose all in the process. Using the board game Monopoly to get his point across was a genius idea. At one verse he sings:
I’m the king of things I’ve always despised
I’m the gingerbread man
who got eaten alive
I’m half-baked! I’m fake!
But see I’ve got hotels on
Park Place and Boardwalk
And two hundred bucks
I pass go but, oh! Life’s taken its toll
Have I won Monopoly to forfeit my soul?
That’s just small sample in the song and to go with it there are trumpets, a solid bass texture by Tim, and a great beat. ‘I Turn Everything Over’ is another upbeat track that is strangely addicting. The bass groove reminds me of a tropical song you’d hear in a paradise resort somewhere. Considering these guys are avid surfers from California that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not crack a smile or feel the least bit happier afterwards.
Overall:This sophomore release by Switchfoot takes everything they did on their debut and tweaks the sound enough to make it all improved. Everything from the moving lyrics to the wonderful sense of humor is still here and makes for a great album. Some might be disappointed in the lack of any drastic changes, but considering they weren’t treading water so much as becoming more efficient at it then it’s not a mark against them in my book. At least not yet it isn’t. As it is, New Way to Be Human is very enjoyable and a highlight in their discography.
Gems of this album are: ‘Only Hope’, ‘New Way to Be Human’, ‘I Turn Everything Over’, ‘Company Car’