San Diego’s modern rock quintet Switchfoot, indeed named after a surfing move (an antiquated one at that) is back with Nothing is Sound, their latest release for Columbia Records and the follow-up to 2003’s double-platinum The Beautiful Letdown. It was with The Beautiful Letdown where the band really broke through into mainstream rock glory. So, after two years and two top-five radio hits, what can fans and critics expect from the new effort?
To give you a general idea of how Switchfoot sees it, vocalist/guitarist Jon Foreman says the new album “…might be the most important thing we’ve ever done together.”
Remember that this is a band that is trying to build on a reputation of a “great band” that and not just a “great Christian band.” Switchfoot wants the rest of the world to know what Christian rock fans have known since 1999’s New Way to be Human—these guys are really good.
My first impression from this album is how different the production quality is from The Beautiful Letdown. While the former was certainly well produced, Switchfoot, with help from John Fields, has created a beautifully lush and dense sound, at the same time not interfering with the effectiveness of the songs themselves.
A road warrior band, most of Nothing is Sound was written and recorded while the band was touring in support of The Beautiful Letdown. Because of this, the band was able to test the songs out on live audiences and tweak them between shows instead of spending a lot of time in the studio doing the same thing, but without any fan feedback.
Another thing that immediately hit me is that the songs are full of honest and thought-provoking lyrics – questioning lyrics, which is actually typical for a Switchfoot record. But Foreman and company must have lived quite a lot of life since the last record because lyrically this record blows away The Beautiful Letdown. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s a little bit of Bono in Jon Foreman.
Musically, I’d have to say that this album, though it doesn’t surpass The Beautiful Letdown, certainly matches it with its smart melodies and catchy hooks and riffs. The tunes have that familiar ring to them without sounding like knock-offs of songs from your dad’s record collection.
Here’s a quick look at some of the tracks I think deserve some extra attention:
- “Happy is a Yuppie Word” – The title was attributed to an answer Bob Dylan gave to a journalist who asked him if he was happy. This is probably my favorite song on the album for musical and various personal reasons too uninteresting to get into here. But if I may get Biblical for a moment, this song is based on Ecclesiastes, one of the more confusing books of the Bible. I think that one might even say that the whole album deals with themes explored in Ecclesiastes.
- “The Blues” – Man, this is a heavy song. So what will it be like when the world ends?
- “The Setting Sun” – Probably the record’s most pop-friendly song (yes, even more so than “Stars”). This should prove to be the tune that wins the band even more fans.
- “Golden” – I really like this track for its acoustic rhythm guitar and the catchy chorus, though I’m not really sure what it’s about yet.
- “Stars” – I didn’t include this song in my first draft, but upon my ninth listen to the album, I’ve decided that it’s most representative of the sound Switchfoot is known for. Well, that and I can’t get it out of my head.
There’s no need to convince old-school Switchfoot fans to buy the album. You won’t be disappointed. But if you’re a modern rock fan who likes music that sounds like it took effort to create, I recommend you give Switchfoot a chance.
Nothing is Sound will be released on September 13, 2005, and the band will kick off their new tour in Ventura, CA on October 17. For detailed tour information, see Switchfoot on the web.
Please note that this review is for the CD release. There is also a DualDisc version that contains a 5.1 channel Surround Sound mix of the album and behind-the-scenes video footage of the band on the road and in the studio.