Album: The Legend of Chin
Label: Re:think Records
Release Date: June 17, 1997
Review by: Michael Mayer III
- Chem 6A
- Edge of My Seat
- Might Have Ben Hur
- Concrete Girl
- Life and Love and Why
- Ode to Chin
- Don’t Be There
Switchfoot started off as a band of two brothers and a drummer out of California writing fun music with interesting song structures, great variety, and honest lyrics. They signed with Re:think Records hoping to distribute their music across both Christian and secular markets, but those plans went on the back burner when they were bought out by Sparrow Records. Regardless of what audience was listening, The Legend of Chin was released in an oversaturated ‘alternative rock’ market that seemed to include everything and nothing all at the same time. Silly genre names aside, Switchfoot didn’t follow the typical pattern that other bands around them were rooted into.
No, instead they made sure we could laugh and have fun just as much as look introspectively into our souls, all in the same hour. Whether it’s the clever play on words with ‘Might Have Ben Hur’ and it’s silly shoutout to Charleton Heston as Jon sings of a lost relationship or the deeply honest and humble ‘You’ with a tale of a person coming to grips with what’s keeping them from peace and hope (complete with sweeping string arrangements and Jon’s passionate voice), there’s something for everybody to love here. Switchfoot show many signs of potential and wisdom beyond their years with The Legend of Chin.
One of those signs of potential was the emergence of a lyrical force known as Jon Foreman. He’s long since lived up to that potential and many times exceeded it as Switchfoot’s career went on, but back in 1997 he was showing just how he was going to become one of the best lyricists in rock music. In slower songs, like ‘You’, ‘Home’ and ‘Don’t Be There’, you can hear the passion and honesty in his lyrics that would later become trademarks. Jon finds the balance between two worlds since he’s not ‘in-your-face preachy’ about his beliefs, but he also has a talent for imagery and symbolism that gets his point across while letting his views shine through. All of this completely compliments the moving music of acoustic guitars and string arrangements.
It’s also worth mentioning that some of the bass grooves from Tim really provide a strong backbone to these songs, ‘Bomb’ and the funky ‘Chem 6A’ instantly coming to mind. They go hand in hand with Jon’s easily distinguishable and brooding vocals. The production is clean enough, although I’ll admit the album sounds a bit dated now and certainly not as fresh as their later output. However, I have always felt that Switchfoot are one of the best bands at writing both rock songs and ballads without going into ‘cheesy’ territory, unlike a lot of their contemporaries, and that’s true for this album as well.
Overall: Switchfoot’s debut set the stage for an impressive career and it’s a must-own for any fan of the band. Even those who are only familiar with their later work would do well to see where it all began. There’s a raw energy of their youth here and sometimes it is just fun to hear the roots of a band. Whenever I spin The Legend of Chin I immediately get in an upbeat mood and listen intently for the great bass grooves and the lyrical play on words. It’s an entertaining listen and that’s how music should be.
Gems of this album are: ‘Chem 6A’, ‘You’, ‘Concrete Girl, ‘Home’, ‘Might Have Ben Hur’