It has been quite a while since the last Switchfoot album, Oh! Gravity. Since then they've separated from their record label (Sony), built their own music studio, seen their lead singer release a ton of new music without Switchfoot, and created their own music label (lowercase people records). They also recorded a ton of new music with different producers, which to me, sounded like they had lost direction and was a recipe for a disaster. To be honest, the last few times I'd seen them live, I just felt they were becoming a "greatest hits" band. They weren't playing much other than the songs that are just the sing-along type, not playing much of their darker (and better) music.
Moving forward I got a preview of two new Switchfoot songs over the summer that were to be on the newly named Hello Hurricane album. The songs, "Mess of Me" and "The Sound," were definitely something different. Both had a real dirty, heavy, and grinding sound with the vocals (Jon Foreman is the lead singer) in some areas sounding a little like Ozzy on "War Pigs." Most importantly, there was passion. So, I began to look forward to the release of Hello Hurricane (HH).
A few weeks before HH was to be released, Switchfoot released their latest tour information; they would play the complete album, from beginning to end, to begin the concert then play various songs for the second part of the show. I bought tickets for both the San Diego show on November 8 and Anaheim House of Blues on November 27.
I received my copy of HH in the mail a little earlier than the release date of November 10 and just a few days before seeing the San Diego show. My initial thought would be that the album would be all like the first two songs I'd heard previously so when I played the full album, I was a bit disappointed. The song styles were a mixture of different styles and tempos and the album just didn't grab me at all. The standout song to me was still "The Sound" and I wanted more of that. I'd started to see reviews about how great the album was and I just didn't get it. All of a sudden, I wasn't very fired up about going to the San Diego show and hearing Hello Hurricane in its entirety. I was also going to sell my Anaheim show tickets.
The San Diego show was the first stop of the tour for Switchfoot to play HH from beginning to end and was two days before the official release date of the album. When they came out to play, I could sense some nervousness from the band and the crowd was basically listening to twelve songs for the first time. Before most of the songs Jon Foreman would talk about the song then they'd play it. The crowd sat down through the whole playing of the new album. It didn't feel like a concert but a listening party which was a very strange vibe.
However, I started to "get" many of the songs and was getting pretty fired up about it. The passion was palpable and you could see that Switchfoot had a new beginning. After the twelve HH songs they then played a bunch of older Switchfoot songs and the crowd stood up and got into it. For me, I really didn't care about the older songs but wanted more of the new album. I also decided that I was not going to sell my tickets for the Anaheim show.
Between the San Diego and Anaheim shows I really dove into Hello Hurricane and found that it is the first album that Switchfoot has done that is truly past their philosophy of "the song is king". It is an album where the songs flow together and one in which it reaches back to the old LP days where it has both an 'A' and 'B' side. The first six songs break down perfectly where it feels you would get out of your chair to turn the record over on your record player for the next side and the next six songs. There are some songs on the album that I would probably not listen to if my iPod shuffled to them. However, if those songs were not on HH then album would be severely lacking. It is a group of songs that are best served and consumed in their entirety.
There are a lot of great things about the album but the last two songs just wrap things up perfectly; "Sing It Out" and "Red Eyes". Along with the song "Always" these are the best vocals I've ever heard from Jon Foreman. These are songs that grew on me and when it comes to "Sing It Out" I begin to understand when Switchfoot talks about song they'd "be willing to die for". It feels like a follow up to their amazing song called "Fatal Wound" from Nothing is Sound and seems like a passionate prayer. The lyrics on this and the other songs are worth the price of admission alone as they deal with the storms we all experience in our lives and how we can react to them.
So, I did go to the Anaheim show on November 27 at the House of Blues. Unlike the San Diego show there weren't any seats so everyone was standing. The vibe was much different as people had all digested the new album. There wasn't much of a difference in the crowd reaction as people seem to like Hello Hurricane as much as the older material. The band was also a bit different than the few weeks before as they seemed very confident playing HH songs and had just gotten better, probably from repetition alone. It's a beautiful thing to see a band release an album and believe in it so much that they play it in full. Frankly, I'm disappointed that I won't get to see the full playing of Hello Hurricane again and felt almost honored to have seen it twice. Strong hint to Switchfoot – release a Hello Hurricane – Live CD/DVD.
So, Hello Hurricane is not a love-at-first-listen album and not everyone will have a chance to see their live performance of the album like I could. Unlike U2's No Line on the Horizon if you give it more than one listen it will grow on you and will find that you are in possession of a great work of art.