Album Review :
Switchfoot - Learning to Breathe

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Artist: Switchfoot
Album: Learning to Breathe
Label: Re:think Records
Release Date: September 26, 2000
Review by: Michael Mayer III

Tracklisting:

  1. I Dare You to Move
  2. Learning to Breathe
  3. You Already Take Me There
  4. Love Is the Movement
  5. Poparazzi
  6. Innocence Again 
  7. Playing for Keeps 
  8. The Loser 
  9. The Economy of Mercy
  10. Erosion
  11. Living Is Simple

Learning to Breathe is the third album from Switchfoot and what I consider the last chapter of the first act of their career. The original three band members still recorded it for Re:think Records and their future keyboardist, Jerome Fontamillas, joined them afterwards in touring. This album also was their most successful up to that point, being certified Gold by the RIAA (500,000 albums shipped) and nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Rock Gospel Album’ category. All of that is fine and dandy but what’s important is the music.

Those who are familiar with Switchfoot’s breakout album, The Beautiful Letdown, will instantly recognize the opening track ‘I Dare You to Move’ (title slightly different with the ‘I’ here). This version has a different intro instead of starting off with the acoustic guitar and the inflections Jon uses at parts in the chorus (especially at the end) are a little more toned down here. As a result this version isn’t as good as the later version, which seems to harness Jon’s passion much more. Still, it’s their crowning achievement as far as ballads go. They have always had a knack for them but this song is the perfect combination of rock and a soft ballad to create an engaging chorus with an easily relatable theme. Next is the title track, one of the best Switchfoot songs of their early career and still played live nearly a decade later. The song is a great soundtrack to anyone starting their life over again as a Christian or are just trying to make changes. It’s also quite addictive as Jon sings ‘Hello, good morning, how you do? What makes your rising sun so new?”.

‘Love Is a Movement’ is another bright spot of the album and one of the best songs they’ve ever written. The guitars and bass have that funky groove that was a trademark on the previous two albums and the chorus soars. It has that sing-a-long quality that they excel at to make the song stand out. It is immediately followed by another track that is vintage early Switchfoot, ‘Poparazzi’. The lyrics have a great sense of humor and the backing vocals give the song such a fun vibe. It’s similar in style to ‘Company Car’ or ‘Might Have Ben Hur’ with it’s callouts to Marilyn Monroe, Nirvana, and many other pop culture references. It especially resonates with me simply because I can’t stand pop culture and people’s desire to find out everything they can on celebrities, even going so far as to worship them. The poparazzi Jon sings of here are the fans and society that go exactly that far and he brilliantly uses allusions to tie it all together. Can anyone read the following and honestly tell me they don’t feel this way about pop music?

“I thought my eyes were gonna get off clean
Til I read your lips on the TV screen
You were busy saying things you didn’t mean
Now everyone’s singing along
With your ridiculous song
You got it stuck
You got it stuck in my head…”

The main problem I have with this album is the remaining songs after ‘Poparazzi’. It’s not that they are horrible by any means. It just feels like they are treading water. The lyrics are great but musically it’s all the sort of thing you’ve heard up to this point and they all have a similar tempo with no change of pace. It’s not until ‘The Economy of Mercy’ that I feel there’s another standout track. It’s one of the few slow songs on the album and has a good climax. ‘Living Is Simple’ is also a great closer and interestingly enough I think it gives a hint to where their career was headed. It changes often as far as tempo and sound go and Jon yelling out “This is fiction” is one of my favorite moments on the album.

Overall: Learning to Breathe is the least consistent of all of Switchfoot’s work. This is the first and only time their choice of tracklisting wasn’t a strength and it feels like a transitional album. Perhaps them writing this so soon after New Way to be Human has something to do with that, it’s hard to say. All is not lost as some of their best songs are found here and they can’t be missed. This album closed an act in their career and though it wasn’t a strong finish, it showed promise for the future.

Gems of this album are: ‘Learning to Breathe’, ‘Love Is the Movement’, ‘I Dare You to Move’, ‘Poparazzi’, ‘Living Is Simple’

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