Switchfoot: The Dark Horses?
For the release of Switchfoot’s last two albums, Hello Hurricane and Vice Verses, ESPN has aired the band’s songs during college football broadcasts. Most recently, “Dark Horses,” the single for Vice Verses, opened the broadcast of the Oklahoma vs. Florida State game.
For those acquainted with the San Diego-based band, Switchfoot are no Dark Horses. Founded in 1996, they enjoyed success in the Christian music world with their first three albums, The Legend of Chin, New Way to Be Human, and Learning to Breathe. Switchfoot’s music was featured in the 2002 Mandy Moore film, A Walk to Remember.
In 2003, Switchfoot turned heads on the national scene with their breakout fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown. “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” were two legendary singles from that record. Crowds still go crazy at concerts when the Switchfoot plays the opening notes to both songs.
“Meant to Live” was one of the first songs that I heard when my brother introduced me to the band eight years ago. It’s become an anthem for me—and for all of my friends across America who have grown up listening to Switchfoot.
Today, Switchfoot continues to enjoy immense popularity in the Christian music scene. Youth groups across America purchase and celebrate each new album that is released. However, Switchfoot’s audience is not limited to the American-Christian social circle. They have successfully established themselves around the world, in both Christian and secular realms.
Switchfoot does a wonderful job of making music for all audiences while still preserving their own Christian beliefs. Some Christians have criticized the band for straddling an imaginary fence between Christian and secular music. Personally, I’ve never understood what the fuss was about. I often comapre Switchfoot’s music to the work of C. S. Lewis.
The Chronicles of Narnia is enjoyed around the world by people of all beliefs, and yet Lewis wrote the series with heavy Christian allegory. Some fans enjoy the series as a fantasy, and others find deeper meaning. The same can be said of Switchfoot’s lyrics—which are occasionally full of profound Christian truth, written as eloquently as Lewis’ work. (Incidentally, Switchfoot wrote the song “This is Home” for Disney’s film version of C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian.)
With that long introduction to my love of Switchfoot, and to their success, I present my review of Vice Verses.
Every time a band comes out with a new album, fans will naturally compare it to the previous work. The day that Vice Verses came out, my friends asked me if I thought it was as good as Hello Hurricane.
As good as? Yes.
Better than or worse than? Neither. I don’t like the question.
I won’t call one album better than the other, but I think that Vice Verses is the natural continuation of Switchfoot’s musical style. This album rings true to my ears as a Switchfoot work, and it is a marvelous work at that.
“Afterlife” is an appropriate opening that sets up the album’s themes of life, death, and eternity. The song is about living right now, not just waiting for the afterlife. Musically, distorted guitar, heavy drumbeats, guitar bends, and a Jon-Foreman-yell start Vice Verses out with high energy. Thematically, it echoes “Meant to Live,” “Needle and Haystack Life,” and “Burn Out Bright” among others. You’re alive right now—so go live!
“The Original” speaks to the value of the human soul. You’re the Original, and you have worth. Free yourself from the lies that weigh you down, your self-doubt and self-isolation. A catchy guitar-riff, and a classic Jon-Foreman-yell* set the pace for this energetic song. The guitar solo is nice too.
*I love that phrase, as you might notice.
“The War Inside” is a great song about internal conflict. The battle for character and righteousness starts on the inside. Thematically, it’s similar to “Ammunition,” “Mess of Me,” “Free,” and other Switchfoot songs that deal with how we struggle with our fallen nature. A steady drumbeat and distorted guitar build up tension that sets up the song’s mood. Vocals tinged with static, and the occasional piano, make “The War Inside” a great listen. The chorus and the rhythm lend themselves well to crowd participation, so this should be great in concert.
“Restless” is about searching for meaning—traveling through life toward a final home. As I understand the song, it reflects Jon Foreman’s belief that this world is not his home. There’s something better out there—Someone he was made to know. The music picks up pace, the electric guitar picks up pace, and Foreman’s vocals get stronger as he expresses his desire to find Who he was made for.
“The Blinding Light” expresses the search for something higher than crude naturalism. You have value. Girls are more than just sex objects. Be yourself. We need each other. Musically, the song reflects the lyrical themes very well. High-gain distorted guitar and bass contrast with tremolo and ethereal piano notes. Background vocals accompany a wonderful chorus that elevates the soul.
Selling the News is a social commentary song, like so many of Switchfoot’s—“Ammunition,” “Gone,” “Adding to the Noise,” “Easier Than Love,” “American Dream,” and “Amateur Lovers,” among others.
In “Selling the News,” the verses are spoken more than sung. “Rant” may be too strong of a word, but Jon Foreman condemns an untrustworthy media and the naturalistic materialism of entertainment-crazed America.
My favorite line in the song is “When nothing is sacred, there’s nothing to lose.” This isn’t the first track that you’ll listen to when you play the album in your car, but it’s a good thinking song.
“Thrive” focuses on internal conflict. Foreman bemoans his own frailty and self-isolation. “I want to thrive, not just survive.” Haunting background vocals and piano, accompanied by a soft drumbeat, underscore the introspective atmosphere created by the lyrics.
“Dark Horses” is simply a cool song. High-gain, palm-muted power chords open up this driving single. If you like “Meant to Live,” “Oh! Gravity,” or “Mess of Me,” then you should enjoy “Dark Horses.” It’s no wonder that ESPN chose this song to open the Oklahoma/Florida State game. We have problems, we get knocked down, and we rise up again. Don’t count us out.
I’m not sure where “Dark Horses” fits with the over-arching themes of Vice Verses, but I’m not complaining. It’s an excellent addition to the album. You will, undoubtedly, listen to this one a lot.
“Souvenirs” is a personal favorite of mine. It was the first song on the album to get me teary-eyed because it focuses on memory, mortality, and loved ones. It starts as a beautiful ballad about youth, when “life was just happening,” and then the music swells to epic proportions as Foreman declares that “nothing lasts forever.”
Keep a box of tissues handy as you listen to the perfect, haunting vocals. This song is sublime.
“Rise Above It” should be a great song in concert. I can envision audiences clapping and swaying to the catchy beat of the verses. The theme seems to be rising above the mundane and the empty in life. So turn it up loud and Rise Above It!
”Vice Verses” is a beautiful ballad reminiscent of “Twenty-Four,” “Daisy,” and “Let Your Love Be Strong.” It’s a very strong title track. Jon Foreman demonstrates his skill on the acoustic guitar as he sings of life and death, his own flaws, God and the Problem of Evil, and the human condition.
The chorus blew me away. I won’t reprint it here, because I want you to listen to it. The polarity, the contrast, and the rhyme are stunning. This song is a great example of Foreman’s lyrical talent.
“Where I Belong” is a powerful track to end a great album. The song reflects Foreman’s search for meaning, and for a home, throughout his life. The setting is the shore. Foreman reflects on his last day on earth, on what he wants for the world, and on finally reaching a world where he belongs on the other side.
The declaration that neither this body nor this world is his home reminds me of “The Beautiful Letdown.” The world is compared to Babylon, a Biblical reference to a place of corruption and sin.
“Where I Belong” is full of eternal perspective. It ends by repeating lines from “Afterlife” about living forever and being “here together now.” I love it when bands end their albums the way they started. It provides great thematic cohesion and emotional value to the entire work. Switchfoot did this with “Needle and Haystack Life” and “Red Eyes,” and I’m thrilled that they did it again with “Afterlife” and “Where I Belong.” I hope it’s a trend that continues.
Vice Verses lived up to my high expectations, and I give it five stars. Switchfoot is a world-class band, and I’ll be in line to get their ninth album when it comes out.