Title: Fading West
Label: Atlantic Records
Release Date: 1/14/14
Reviewer: Ian Zandi
- Who We Are
- Love Alone is Worth the Fight
- When We Come Alive
- Say It Like You Mean It
- The World You Want
- Slipping Away
- Let It Out
- All Or Nothing At All
- Saltwater Heart
- Back To the Beginning Again
Back in September of last year, we got our first glimpse of Switchfoot’s Fading West project from their 3-track EP. After being delayed a few times, the part-soundtrack, part-studio album is finally here. In the past, we have mostly been treated to gritty grunge tracks from the band. Those tracks have become major hits in both Christian and mainstream radio. I consider them to be the flagship of such crossover bands. This release marks a big departure in style from the San Diego surfers. To be fair, I think it would be appropriate to review this album as what it is intended to be (soundtrack and studio album).
Without a doubt, the songs flow seamlessly along the narrative and imagery. The songs all share the same atmospheric texture. If each song was to be considered a color, then it is pretty clear that the artists behind it have tastefully formed a beautiful palate. In the film, the musicians are shown to be on a globe-trotting adventure in search of new influences on their music and outlook on life. One particular turning point is incorporating a South African choir on “The World You Want”. I don’t find incorporating children choirs in anthemic tunes to be very revolutionary. The band repeats the “singing children” process on “Who We Are” by using their own offspring’s vocals. It is a touching part of the film but nothing new.
The Fading West project was to be considered something like a “rockumentry” but I find that it doesn’t really put much emphasis on the ”rock” part. Switchfoot’s latest album features less guitar-driven tracks and more electronic radio-friendly track. Most of the songs verge on falling into the dry land of CCM. As the movie A Walk to Remember showed, Switchfoot’s past styles would have fit just fine for this project. However, Switchfoot never wants to be fine.
They want to be more than fine.
They want to live for so much more.
They want to thrive not just survive.
The route they chose for the songs is perfect for the film. As a band with so much more potential, this batch of songs is not so perfect. Which brings me to the studio aspect of the album….
In my opinion, this is Switchfoot’s weakest album to date. That is not saying that this is a bad album though (I enjoy and respect their entire discography. I feel that their lyrics have become more generic and the music is less creative. Fading West is a very catchy album but it pales in comparison to their potential.
Lyrically, I expect so much more from Jon Foreman and Co. Many of the songs have cliché titles and predictable hooks. Naturally, Switchfoot is a band that sings songs about justice, unity and pain. On this release, they don’t stray from what is familiar. Reading some of the stories behind the music, I can tell that there was some real heart put into this release. Unfortunately, it did not translate very well to record.
Jon Foreman once said in a 2010 Huffington Post article,
” I don’t write songs when I’m happy. When I’m content, I take my wife out to dinner, I go surfing. I hang out with my friends and play ridiculous cover tunes when I’m happy. But when I’m depressed, I turn to look for something beyond this life. When I’m lonely and nothing makes sense and the world has lost it’s flavor I search for notes and words that usher in a transcendence that soars high above the tragedy. I look for to song to understand the present tragedy in the context of a hope for a better world. I look for words that remind me of a bigger story, for songs that acknowledge the tragedy and move beyond it. I look to artists who give me windows, words that provide for a new life to be birthed within me.”
It seems to me that most of the tracks from Fading West are quite optimistic in nature. However, there are still some standout lyrics that can be picked out from the release. “The World You Want” provides a thought-provoking analysis on religion (specifically on the bridge of the song)
“What you say is your religion/How you say it is your religion
Who you love is your religion/How you love is your religion
All your science is your religion/All your wars is your religion
Every breath is your religion”.
Another lyric that proves Jon’s penchant for darker, yet, hopeful songs can be found on “All or Nothing at All” as he exclaims “Feel your heart is loudest when its breaking”. Another notable point on this song is the heavy synth power that is prominent. The song is almost danceable and is reminiscent of last year’s Collapsible Lung from Relient K. It is also in the same vein as Switchfoot’s Vice Reverses project that came out last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song gets the remix treatment in the near future.
Most of the songs found on Fading West are not guitar driven and rely more on percussion, synth, and beats. This is not necessarily a bad thing but they give the record a negative impression of being overproduced and radio-friendly (See “Who We Are” and “Saltwater Heart”). Honestly, I would expect a song like “Let It Out” from somebody like TobyMac. Yes, it is very catchy. Is it a good song? Not particularly. Very nice fit for the film, not as a studio cut though.
I recently attended the Fading West CD acoustic release show at Fingerprints Record Store in Long Beach, CA (a few days after Jon’s surfing accident). Even though he was still recovering from his facial injuries, that show sounded fantastic. A few songs such as “Who We Are”, “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” were played stripped down and sounded way better than their studio counterparts. It made me appreciate the songs much more and dislike the studio cuts even further. I hope for the day that these songs are recorded acoustically.
Though it could be found on the physical release of the Fading West EP, there is one song that is missing from the full-length and it is quite obvious. That would be the title track, “Fading West”. It fits in perfectly with the rest of the record musically and lyrically. Additionally, it is featured in the movie being played live by the guys. Why would such a song be omitted from the soundtrack? I have 2 theories:
1) Confusion. Imagine a DJ announcing the song. “And now we have a song from the guys in Switchfoot called “Fading West” from their studio album called Fading West that also serves as a soundtrack for their film Fading West. You can catch the surfers currently on their Fading West Tour.
2) Novelty. While I was at that record release show, the band dropped some details that the album would be re-released later this year (September?) with some bonus songs. The physical release of the movie would be made available around that time as well.
In any case, it is a very good song that deserves to see the light of day in the most commercial way possible.
Switchfoot has always been an innovative and honest band. Tweaking their sound and doing what they love (surfing and making music). While the experimental Oh! Gravity seemed to split their fanbase in half, I am sure that the same will happen here. However, it should be considered that this is their passion project. I am sure their next album will be full of just as many surprises as the past and present. Here is hoping for those acoustic cuts though…..
U2, Coldplay, Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band