Review Summary: Switchfoot frontman trades in alternative rock for an acoustic concept record. Yes, it works out fine.
It might just be the sheltered Christian kid in me talking, but I’ve always thought that Switchfoot is one of the more underrated alternative bands of this decade. Now if you’re the average music fan and only remember Switchfoot for their Top 40 hits “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” (which were THE Mom-rock songs of choice for movie theaters and malls in 2004), the above statement probably smacks a bit of hyperbole and maybe it is. But there’s always been a degree of universality and transparency in their music that’s set Switchfoot apart from the likes of Hoobastank or The Killers, at least in my mind. Of the six albums the band has released in the past ten years, none has been any worse than solid and their best, 2005’s Nothing Is Sound
, is one of the handful of great mainstream rock records that has come out this century. And while the band’s success has undoubtedly been a team effort and no one member of the band is more important than the other and blahblahblahblahblah – make no mistake: Jon Foreman is the reason why Switchfoot is a good band. His raspy, laid-back vocals provide a perfect vehicle to drive his conscientious and empathetic lyrics home as the listener happily goes along for the ride. All terrible metaphors aside, Foreman really is a first-rate singer/songwriter who unfortunately has always been underappreciated (except by the Christian music community, who will always hold a fond place for him in their hearts for landing a Switchfoot song on the WB’s Everwood
Foreman brings his considerable songwriting talents next to a solo acoustic project, a series of four six-song EPs entitled Fire
-- wait, wrong Southern California artist. No, instead of focusing on elements, Foreman’s EPs are all titled after the seasons of the year: Fall
, and Summer
, the first half of which will be reviewed here. Don’t go into these EPs expecting sonic experimentation akin to what Thrice attempted with The Alchemy Index
. Each disc differs slightly from another in mood – i.e. Fall
are generally more melancholy while Spring
are naturally more upbeat – but the instrumentation and arrangements here are simple and don’t vary much from disc to disc. It’s Foreman’s vocals, it’s Foreman’s guitar (or piano on a few tracks), and usually one, maybe two accompaniments (the horn and harmonica get a workout on Fall
, cello or simple percussion do likewise for Winter
). And that’s it. In this way, Foreman’s solo material is reminiscent of Switchfoot’s early albums blended with a healthy appreciation for Damien Rice and Elliott Smith. And while Fall
don’t quite stand up to the best work of those other great singer-songwriters, it’s pretty damn good in its own right.
is probably the best of the four EPs, as it contains Foreman’s best vocals of the entire project (or perhaps his career, for that matter). He sounds appropriately brittle and vulnerable on the stark “Learning How to Die” and grimly yet compassionately narrates a homeless woman’s tale of hopelessness in “Somebody’s Baby.” On the flip side, the quaint “Behind Your Eyes” finds a glimpse of beauty in an otherwise dreary landscape and Foreman’s yearning vocals maintain a sense of hope on “I Am Still Running.” Comparatively, Fall
isn’t as consistently stunning or moving, but it may be a better introduction to the project. The beautifully bittersweet “Southbound Train” finds Foreman’s vocals taking on the persona of a weary traveler, while the piano-led “My Love Goes Free” sadly yet bravely accepts the loss of a loved one. Foreman’s lyrics have a tendency to decry the buildup of material possessions and note the evil man is capable of (see “Lord, Save Me from Myself” and “Equally Skilled”) and this Ecclesiastical side of him tends to wear thin after awhile, especially lines like ”And sex is a grand production, but I’m bored with that as well.”
Lack of sex drive aside, Foreman’s got that “everyman” quality that every singer/songwriter who wears their heart on their sleeve needs to be successful. He’s empathetic, he’s honest, he’s compassionate, he’s transparent, and
he looks like a hippie. To be honest, this solo venture he’s undertaken probably better suits him than his role as frontman for Switchfoot; at the very least, he’s carving out a pretty good contingency plan for whenever his “real” band decides to call it quits. All in all, one of the better albums of the year.
Southbound Train, My Love Goes Free.
Learning How to Die, Behind Your Eyes, Somebody’s Baby