Review Summary: A rushed, banal release, Switchfoot slap listeners silly with what tries hard to sound free-standing but plays more like b-sides from their previous record.
It only took Switchfoot fifteen months from the release of their last record to pump out their latest message-infused rocker Oh! Gravity. For anyone who’s been to a Switchfoot show they know of lead-singer Jon Foreman’s uncanny ability to write songs on the fly, as he usually will ask for subject matter from the audience and sing a tune off the cuff about the proposed content. So it’s not a question of whether the band can bust out twelve new tunes at the drop of the hat. The question is whether they ought to. What fans are left with here unfortunately sound like b-sides of the former Nothing Is Sound with only a few tracks rising above the tired rest. Switchfoot would have been better off holding on to the few decent songs until they had more quality filler and by that time they would have been distanced enough from Nothing Is Sound to make a unique and fresh release, instead of one with a stale message and a regurgitated sonic landscape.
Upon first listen to the lead track, which also happens to be the lead single, one begins to wonder if it’s a song at all, as it rocks by at a sprint with nonsense noise and banging instruments. We can forgive the band for this type of intro when many times albums are opened with much worse an attempt than this. As Foreman begins to pose the trite questions that have become regular to his lyricism, we find our way into “American Dream” which it would appear is the culprit of all ailing. Foreman’s love-hate relationship with the land of the free is the inspiring source material for his lyrics as of late and the “red, white, blue and green” wave from start to finish. From replicated guitar lines to recurrent lyrical content, it’s all been done before, by this very band.
“Dirty Second Hands” is a stop-and-go, experimental piece in 5/4 time signature with cool handclaps and dynamic explosions. The message is hard to decipher and leaves listeners with the uneasy feeling that they should be upset about something they just don’t know what. But no matter, because the trepid air is left behind and the positive side of Switchfoot emerges with “Awakening”, one of the strongest tracks on the album, where the boys return to their winning formula and break through “the falling sky and the rain” with an anthemic tune about living life to the fullest.
Later we run into “Amateur Lovers”, a dorky rocker that is borderline childish with all its screaming and yelling about how “we don’t know what we’re doing, let’s do it again!” But the last thing we want to do is hear this one again so we quickly change the track before we have to listen to any more nonsensical shouting. Thankfully, the next two tracks are worth the trip. “Faust, Midas, And Myself” tells a wonderful story of a man who’s lost his way. Infidelity and fortune have gotten the best of him and he wakes up as if from a dream with the realization that he has only “one life left to lead”. Forced to make difficult decisions he finds redemption, in that “what was once routine is now the perfect joy”. The power of this metaphor is then driven home with the up-tempo love song “Head Over Heels (In This Life)”, the catchiest song on the record. A no-bones-about-it, let’s-get-to-the-chorus pop song, this tune gets off the ground immediately. Unfortunately, this is the last of memorable material we will encounter on the album, as the final four tracks seem very simplistic and exasperated, with the minor exception of “Let Your Love Be Strong”. Nevertheless, by the time “4:12” rolls around and Foreman once again tells us that “all of ours dreams are nothing more than material” we’re undoubtedly sick of hearing about materialism and the consequent consumer culture.
Both fans of the band and casual listeners alike would just hope to put Oh! Gravity behind them and that this hiccup in Switchfoot’s catalog would serve as a lesson to the band. Excellent music takes time to construct and digest; as evidenced by this mediocre record, artist and audience both need more separation from the previous album. Sometimes the departure is accomplished simply by an alteration of style, but more often than not the artist just needs time to grow. Ultimately it’s the banality found in Oh! Gravity that is proof positive of Switchfoot’s lack of growth.
2.5 / 5 stars
- Jonathan Kroening
- “Dirty Second Hands”
- “Faust, Midas, And Myself”
- “Head Over Heels (In This Life)”