In the eighteen years of being a band, now with 9 studio albums, 2 live albums, a motion picture released, and even a Grammy win, Switchfoot has never stopped being the clan of down-to-earth Christian surfer dudes who knew how to take success and not let it break them. After the success of Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot slipped over into the realm of experimentation, releasing the ever-so dark and honest Vice Verses, garnering moderate success, but leaving the band at a crossroads of where to go next. In an effort to refresh the adrenaline of the band, they sojourned across the globe and created Fading West, the record accompanying a surf/rock documentary, which is their 9th album to date, and the youngest and most energetic one in their catalog.
With its prominent world-music influence, paired up with Swtchfoot’s signature rhythm section, this album reveals a strong return to the band’s lively and upbeat energy that we heard on The Beautiful Letdown and even at times on Hello Hurricane. Opener “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight” is essentially an anthem of the band’s Eighteen year-long journey: “We find what we’re made of || Through the open door || Is it fear you’re afraid of? || What are you waiting for? || Love alone is worth the fight.” Musically, this song exemplifies the recurring indie-pop anthem sound, with its vocal “ohs”, driving guitars, and consistent rhythm section, this formula makes up the large majority of the album. Another stand-out track is “All Or Nothing At All” which boasts some of Jon Foreman’s strongest vocals on the record, as well as instrumentation that wouldn’t be out of place next to Arcade Fire or Grouplove.
While the record has its danceable moments (“Let It Out”), as well as its heavier jams (“Say It Like You Mean It”), Fading West isn’t necessarily a dance nor a rock album; overall, all the individual tracks coalesce into exactly what the band told us to expect: a world-music surfing soundtrack that is undoubtedly Switchfoot.
Additionally, these surf-pop anthems become a template for Jon Foreman’s spiritual and philosophical insights. The infectious chorus of “Saltwater Heart” sings: “When I’m on your shore again || I can feel the ocean || I can feel your open arms || Like pure emotion || I’m finally free again.” In this vein, a common lyrical theme for Foreman is a continuation of Vice Verse’s “Restless”, water trying to find its way home to the ocean as a metaphor for mankind seeking to find its own ocean. Almost every song on the album has at least one line that clings to that metaphor, and as a result the songs bind together very well conceptually.
The downside to this album, however, is that in comparison with their previous work, there is a sense of unfulfillment in the music. What is missing is the riff-based rock songs that made the band famous, the album has no “Meant to Live” or “Mess of Me”. There are no screams, no (noteworthy) guitar solos, no groundbreaking sounds. What Fading West lacks is dynamics – the music is consistently safe and uninspiring.
When looking objectively at the album as a whole, it is clear that Fading West is a step in a new direction for Switchfoot. Like any other album they have released post Beautiful Letdown, the band is honest with where they are at, and they invite the listener along for the ride, like it or not. It is obvious that the band has been doing a lot of surfing, as well as a lot of reflection of who they are as musicians, and as a band. Thus, Fading West is not a finish line, but a new beginning, and although the title Fading West may refer to something setting and coming to a close, never before have they seemed so replenished and revived.
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