Album: The Beautiful Letdown
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: February 25, 2003
Review by: Michael Mayer III
- Meant to Live
- This Is Your Life
- More Than Fine
- Dare You to Move
- The Beautiful Letdown
- On Fire
- Adding to the Noise
The opening riff to this album is probably one of the most memorable and recognizable riffs, not only in Switchfoot’s career, but in rock music. ‘Meant to Live’ kicks off their fourth album and this major label debut for Columbia Records just as much as it begins a new era for the band. They’ve now added Jerome Fontamillas, from the bands Mortal and Fold Zandura, to keyboard duties full-time and he has an immediate impact on the sound. He adds a texture of synths to the songs that give them additional life. Rest assured, this still sounds like Switchfoot. It’s just more bombastic and anthemic than ever before.
Yes, these are the songs that would fit right at home with a stadium full of fans pumping their fists and singing their heart out with the band. The Beautiful Letdown is the album that saw Switchfoot realize their dream of reaching the mainstream audience and it quickly become their most successful album. Not only was it certified double platinum (with more than 2.6 million copies sold), but they won many awards and the catchy nature of the songs helped four singles be released off it (if you count ‘Gone’).
Of course, one of them was an alternate (and better) version of ‘Dare You to Move’. The band felt it was a song that needed a larger audience and put it on the album to have it heard. That decision proved to be wise considering its huge success and, given the powerful message, it no doubt touched many more lives. Naturally, all of this started with ‘Meant to Live’ and its infectious hooks. That riff introduced many people into the world of Switchfoot and Jon’s catchy vocals in the chorus didn’t let them go. It became an instant fan favorite for good reason.
Aside from the singles, which have been overplayed to death on the radio, there is a lot more substance here. Switchfoot always seem to have one song on every album that showcases their sense of humor and wit. On this album that song is most definitely ‘Gone’, a punk-ish rock anthem that evolves a few times to a whole new sound entirely. In it we have Jon singing about how all the materialistic things that people worry about in this life will be gone one day “like Frank Sinatra, like Elvis and his mom, like Al Pacino’s cash”. All of it is addictive and a blast to listen to whether it’s in your car or your watching the magic unfold at their high energy live shows. I also have to mention the bass heavy title track. It starts off slow but once it picks up the groove is infectious. Jon is at the top of his game lyrically as well.
Despite Switchfoot looking to reach a wider audience, there are plenty of songs here with spiritual elements. The most powerful of which is ‘On Fire’, a slow ballad that tugs on the soul all the way through the climax to the end. The use of synths and backing vocals only add to an already moving song to stir your emotions even more. Jon’s lyrics are brilliant and they likely touch people in many different ways. For me, they make this song the most heartfelt worship track I’ve ever heard. Alot of times we connect to music on a personal level and the songs that stick with us the most are the ones that connect the strongest on that level. ‘On Fire’ does just that as Jon passionately sings:
“When everything inside me looks like everything I hate
You are the hope I have for change
You are the only chance I‘ll take
When I’m on fire when you’re near me
I’m on fire when you speak
I’m on fire burning at these mysteries”
Overall: This album is easily their most accessible with all of the hit singles and catchy vocal hooks in every track. Some of the best songs they’ve written are on here and for that reason this is the album I’d recommend to anyone interested in getting into Switchfoot. It’s not their best, by any means, as there are a few tracks that disrupt the flow of the album. ‘Ammunition’ feels more like a throw-in to me and I’ve never been crazy about ‘Redemption’. They are good songs that unfortunately don’t stand up to the rest of the gems found here. That’s probably not a mark against them so much as a compliment to how well written the rest of The Beautiful Letdown is.
Gems of this album are: ‘Meant to Live’, ‘Dare You To Move’, ‘Gone’, ‘On Fire’, ‘The Beautiful Letdown’