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Switchfoot are a rock band from San Diego, California, whose name refers to a move in surfing, the band's other great love. Originally a college three-piece Led Zeppelin covers band, Switchfoot properly formed in 1996 (originally under the name Chin Up) with three members - Jon Foreman on vocals and guitar, his brother Tim on bass, and friend Chad Butler on drums. They released their first album as Switchfoot, The Legend of Chin, in 1997. After a couple of albums, and growing popularity, touring keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas officially joined the band around 2003, with guitarist Drew Shirley joining an album later, around 2005.
They all share the Christian faith, although they prefer not to be labelled a 'Christian band', as they feel that creates a very limited impression of what they do that isn't helpful. This has caused a bit of antagonism in the past, but I think the dust's now settled. Their faith informs what they do, rather than them using their beliefs as a battering ram to 'convert the heathen' - that is very definitely NOT their style! Lyrically and practically they're very concerned for social justice. Personally, I find it quite a challenge to review any of their albums, mainly due to the lyrical content. Musically, you could just tap your foot and go 'ah, that's nice', but if you start to let the lyrics get inside your head, you may find them asking questions about yourself that are sometimes hard to answer, or set you challenges that are hard to take up...
The 12-track Hello Hurricane was released in 2009, and is at first listen fairly straightforward 'American Radio Rock', maybe towards the heavier end of it in places. I'll run through all the tracks to hopefully give you an idea of the album.
1. NEEDLE AND HAYSTACK LIFE - starting with guitar chord that reverberates across the speakers, this has a bit of a U2 feel. The song really kicks in at the chorus, with some anthemic and energetic rock. Lyrically it speaks of what is normally impossible to find being brought together for a purpose, a once-in-a-lifetime meeting.
2. MESS OF ME - the first song to be used to promote the album, with a viral marketing campaign organised by Jon Foreman via Twitter, which mostly happened in the States but spread to other countries too in a small way. It's a great rock song, at three and a half minutes long it's brief and to the point. It speaks of change, realising the mess that's been made and the need for change - "the sickness is myself - I made a mess of me, I want to get back the rest of me... I want to spend the rest of my life alive!" The track plays out with ear-tweaking reverb.
3. YOUR LOVE IS A SONG - this song starts quietly, leading into a medium-paced rock song/ballad. You could let this one pass you by after the rousing opening tracks, so this one takes a little more attention. Lyrically, the day begins, and observations on the stars fading and the dawn coming form the background for this song all about how Jon sees God's love running through, around, over and underneath every aspect of his life. This has become one of my favourite songs on the album.
4. THE SOUND (JOHN M PERKINS' BLUES) - "the static comes in slow" - and then turns into a brooding, driving rock riff. The words are based around Dr John Perkins' words "Love is the final fight" - Dr Perkins was involved in the black civil rights movement in the States and has been a great inspiration to the band. An excellent song all round, with an all-too-short guitar solo, and a great thrashy jam to finish.
5. ENOUGH TO LET ME GO - this is a tender song, thoughtful; although still retaining the driving beat, it's more subdued, and the bassline seems to come though more on this one, with a recurring acoustic phrase. Lyrically, it's about someone who's struggling with something, and needing to go and deal with it alone, and asking their partner if they love them enough, and presumably trust them enough, to let them go & do that. You get a real sense that this is a long term problem and that the relationship has already had to withstand a lot, it's quite a sobering song, typically for them accompanied by an upbeat melody.
6. FREE - There's a military-style drumbeat driving this tense rock song, with a string section amping up the tension in the background. "When I try to reach above I only hurt the ones I love", "I still believe you could save me from me", "Come set me free, inside this shell there's a prison cell" - the song is a desperate plea to be set free from his limitations, and from all that stops him from being able to do what he knows he should be doing.
7. HELLO HURRICANE - The title track starts with a melodic hum, again a touch of U2 in the build-up, but the chorus is pure American rock, and the song is again driven with an insistent drumbeat. Lyrically the storm is building, and it's easy to see that the storm is a parallel to some brooding threat in life and not just in the weather. It works very much on two levels, as there is a message here which Christians will recognise, with adapted Bible quotes (for instance "Everything I have I count as loss", which references the Apostle Paul's statement that he considered all of his former learning and status as nothing compared to his new life), and the song functions as a battle cry for anyone who's fighting circumstances that are trying to undermine their attempts to live a life of integrity! "Hello hurricane, you're not enough... you can't silence my love, I've got doors and windows boarded up, all your dead end fury's not enough, you can't silence my love!"
8. ALWAYS - A quiet start, Jon's vocal and piano. Strings gradually fade in and build up over the first chorus, with the drums kicking in for the second verse. Musically it continues to build, adding instruments, into quite an epic choral climax. Lyrically again this song could have two meanings - it's about the beginning of life, and this could be either a physical or a spiritual birth - the later lyrics suggest that it could even be a prodigal returning, someone rediscovering an abandoned faith.
9. BULLET SOUL - This one actually returns to a more 'Switchfooty' sound, which is very reminiscent of much earlier albums melodically, structurally and lyrically. Quieter verses, very loud rocky choruses, and a longer guitar solo (hooray!) Lyrically it's a rallying call for the youth of the world to get motivated and get on & do good. The majority of their fan base are college kids in the States (which makes me feel very old), so this is well received by them!
10. YET - Quiet and contemplative, this song is about mentally breaking down, Jon's vocal is very heartfelt and almost choked up, as he sings about fighting through a tough time, getting to the edge of the precipice but not falling off... yet. Being them, the music is more upbeat than the words, so the song doesn't drown in depression, and the fact that "you haven't lost me yet" is read as a positive, not as an accident waiting to happen!
11. SING IT OUT - subject-wise, this follows on from 'Yet', but this time is addressed to God. The singer has nothing left and throws himself on God's assistance. Most of this song is accompanied by some electric guitar and synthesised sounds, with Jon's vocal slightly distorted; when the middle eight comes, the drum and guitar come in behind the vocal, which becomes clearer, and continue, accompanying the repeated chorus in a play-out that reminds me very much of the accompaniment to Dave Gilmour's solo at the end of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb.
12. RED EYES - There's something about this song. It begins with the military-style beat again, with an uplifting melody but very searching words. A question-and-answer lyric sees someone being gently asked why they are where they are, what's wrong? The answers come as if from someone who's hit rock-bottom and can't see a way forward, the red eyes I'm guessing referring to a lot of tears or exhaustion. It hits a chord with me having been there myself and only too well remembering the long slow process of recovery. I usually have red eyes myself by the end of the song.
I have the edition that comes in a digipak with an extra disc, a DVD.
THE MAKING OF HELLO HURRICANE - a 40 minute documentary which gives a great insight into the first album that they've made in their own self-built studio. For the first time they have been completely independent, with no time constraints, and here we see how scary and difficult total artistic freedom was! From 90 song ideas, whittled down to a total of 45 that they felt were workable, we see how they battled with the creative process to develop the 12 songs that make up the album. The benchmark became "if you don't believe in it with every ounce of your being, why are you singing it?", and that each song had to make Jon cry when he sang it. After a year and a half of hard grind, producer Mike Elizondo came in as producer, and his enthusiasm for crafting the songs to a finish is very obvious.
IN STUDIO - six songs from the album performed live as a full band in the studio: Needle & Haystack Life; Mess of Me; The Sound; Hello Hurricane; Always; Bullet Soul.
PHOTO SHOOT - we travel with the band as they visit various locations, just a short 10 minute film, and just slightly silly!
As with many album releases these days, it comes in several different formats if you buy it direct from their US website, and each comes with a downloadable collection of songs and videos:
The deluxe edition which is in a hardbound 84 page picture book, with the album, an out-takes & demos CD, plus a behind the scenes DVD and an exclusive poster, ($49.98)
The CD/DVD cardboard digipak which contains the album and behind the scenes DVD plus a lyric booklet, ($18.99)and
The standard CD , which I assume is in a jewel case, but it may be a card slipcase (this isn't made clear on the site)($11.99).
All of these options are still available from their site: http://www.switchfoot.com/switchfoot/productsByCat/?catID=17
It's possible to get hold of the album without ordering from the States of course! Play.com and Amazon currently have the standard version for £9.39, while Amazon have the CD/DVD from £38.99. I did get mine as an import though, couldn't wait for it to come out here! There were a few months delay between the US and UK releases.
CONCLUSION: I consider this to be an excellent album - although it may not be rocket science musically, it's a great rock album, with a great heart, and I've found it to be one of those albums that has a depth to it that you only really appreciate with time spent. In fact, it's become a lot dearer to me in the study of it that I've done for this review, as I've spent a lot more time reading through the lyrics. Switchfoot are a band that I have appreciated for several years now, I find their lyrics challenging and inspiring in my life as a Christian. I had the privilege of seeing them live this year when they played at the Big Church Day Out. Although they are largely followed by teenagers and folks in their early 20s, I had no compunction in 'standing' with my daughters at the front of the crowd, pogoing and singing along at the top of my voice! I would heartily recommend this album as a great introduction to what they do.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Needle And Haystack Life
2 Mess Of Me
3 Your Love Is A Song
4 Sound (John M Perkins' Blues), The
5 Enough To Let Me Go
7 Hello Hurricane
9 Bullet Soul
11 Sing It Out
12 Red Eyes