It’s been awhile since I was moved by an album as much as Jonathan Foreman’s work, Fall, the first of his Limbs and Branches series released in October 2008. The lead singer of the popular Christian rock band Switchfoot, Foreman certainly holds his own as he extends his songwriting endeavors into this brooding and personal collection. Most of my inspired musical experience has been linked to daydreaming; Fall hits on reality with the force of — borrowing one of the man’s song titles — a south-bound train.
Jon Foreman’s musical style is the first thing that grabbed me, even before the brilliant, lucid lyrics and incisively universal themes. Fall has all the elements of 70s Simon-and-Garfunkel-style folk: Socially aware, sensitive (nearly to the point of being touchy), a music that a person could listen to over and over and still discover and appreciate new things about it. To make the album generationally relevant, this older mode merges with an edgy, alternative attitude, delivering a punch with its singular melancholy.
Foreman’s lyrics border on poetry; the CD insert notes that Foreman developed most of his songs in the wee hours of the morning, a time quite conducive to deep writing. It is very refreshing to hear a raw account of those feelings, having experienced many of them myself. Indeed, the theme of Fall is, appropriately, the fading of things loved, and the writer doesn’t mince words in describing the darkness that accompanies it: “How miserable I am / I feel like a fruitpicker who arrived here after the harvest / There’s nothing here at all/Nothing at all here that could placate my hunger” (“Equally Skilled,” track 3).
Most notable about Fall are the themes, the aforementioned being the main one. Foreman’s CD bears no guise. When Foreman is sad, he says so. When he regrets, he says so. And while the listeners don’t have to grapple with metaphors thick enough to cut with a knife, the songwriter doesn’t just feed them all the intricacies of his mind with a pedantic sort of straight-shooting. The feelings are clear enough that anyone can understand them, but, like good literature as well as good music, there are enough underlying beauties to be found that a person does have to do some thinking and searching to find them, making discovery of them all the more meaningful.
I really only had one beef with this CD: The first time I listened through it, I found it inordinately depressing. The listener must pay close attention to the whole of Foreman’s lyrics, as well as the arc of his songs throughout the complementary Winter, Spring, and Summer albums, to truly catch the spirit behind the sorrow. Foreman’s songs alternate, just like King David’s Biblical psalms, between lamenting the injustice of the world to praising God for the hope ultimately found in Him. Overall, the hope in Fall trumps the lamentation, though the latter is strong enough to leave a bad taste in non-discriminating listeners’ mouths (or, a bad ringing in their ears?).
Having listened to the entire Limbs and Branches series, I can confidently say that Fall is my favorite album. It is a satisfying listening experience musically, a provocative one lyrically and a solid one thematically. Jon Foreman is a true virtuoso in his musical realm and will have my support as long as the seasons change.