Switchfoot kicked off their Columbia Records deal in 2003 with The Beautiful Letdown imploring each individual to seek a more meaningful life through faith and service to others. Their upbeat combination of rock and pop has been well-received and their message will never be outdated.

(2005) Music Review

This page was created on February 01, 2005
This page was last updated on May 14, 2005

Legend of Chin here
New Way to Be Human here
Learning to Breathe
here
The Beautiful Letdown here



MUSIC REVIEWS INDEX

DETAILS

THE HIGH NOTES:

  • 2003 San Diego Music Award for "Album of the Year," and “Pop Album of the Year”
  • 2002 San Diego Music Award for “Best Adult Alternative”
  • 2001 San Diego Music Awards for "Best Pop Album,” and "Best Pop Artist"
  • 1997 San Diego Music Award for "Best New Artist"
  • 5 songs included on the Gold certified soundtrack "A Walk to Remember"
  • Over 50 songs usages on major TV (WB, FOX , CBS, Columbia, MTV, ABC, and Disney)
  • New “Meant To Live” video playing MTV, MTV2, and Fuse
  • Gibson Guitars' 2001 Les Paul Horizon Award (awarded to guitarist/lead singer Jon Foreman)

Rarely does a rock band combine explosive guitars with an intense longing for meaning. Jon Foreman and Switchfoot, however, yearn for something more than what pop-culture is selling. "If I'm content as an artist to write a hit song or have a platinum record, then I'll have failed a lot of my fellow human beings," says Foreman. "We have the best jobs in the world because we play music for a living and love doing it, but we didn't get into this to try and sell something. For us, it's about communicating and connecting with people on a different level."

That stance earned the Switchfoot vocalist/guitarist and his bandmates (brother/bassist Tim Foreman, keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas and drummer Chad Butler) an invitation to attend last December’s Nashville summit for DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade for Africa), the charity organization founded by U2’s main man Bono to promote AIDS awareness and debt relief for developing nations. “It was incredible,” says Foreman, who’s worked with Sudanese refugees in the band’s hometown of San Diego. “Here’s a guy who has all the money, fame and notoriety that anyone could ever want, and he’s passionately talking to us about a bunch of poor people in Africa who will never buy his records. Listening to him speak was definitely a life-changing experience.”

When the meeting ended, Foreman walked over and handed the U2 frontman $40. “I told him I owed it to him for sneaking into a U2 show in London a couple of years ago,” he says. “He laughed and told me he did the same thing when he was younger. We spoke for a while and then he gave the money back, saying he felt he had already been compensated. To be honest, I was relieved because it was my last $40 and I needed the money to get home.”

As for his involvement with DATA and its cause, Foreman says, “I talk about it quite a bit in interviews and from the stage, but I’m careful not to be annoying about it. We’ve never really been a political band. Our songs are more about the politics of the heart than they are about foreign politics. I don’t think we can solve the outside problems until we solve the ones within.”

On the Columbia/RED Ink debut The Beautiful Letdown, Foreman opens up with self-revelatory songs about hope, love, faith and the desire to be more than what he’s been sold. In spacious settings, the singer connects with subtle emotional power, surveying a landscape of mediocrity in “More Than Fine,” digging for painful truths in title track “Beautiful Letdown” and stepping on a distortion pedal to scream about the dissonance of the modern age in “Ammunition.” On lead single “Meant To Live,” inspired by TS Elliot’s “The Hollow Men,” he strives to survive in a world where love and hate breathe the same air.

“It’s not a dark album, but it talks about dark things that have happened to me,” says Foreman. “A lot of the songs are about the hope that’s deeper than the wound and how that’s something that we can really hold onto. I think that’s something that kids are picking up on and taking with them.” He pauses and adds, “Don’t misunderstand—I have no delusions of grandeur thinking that our songs will single-handedly change the world. But change is possible and I definitely want to be a part of that. We always make it a point to talk to people outside after the shows, and I recently had a kid come up to me and give me a big hug because he was so affected by ‘Dare You To Move’ (from The Beautiful Letdown). Apparently, he was going through some really rough times and wasn’t sure if he wanted to live anymore, but heard the song and was inspired. That’s incredible. On days when you’re wondering what you’re doing playing a show in some small town in the middle of nowhere, you think about moments like that and realize that you’re part of a bigger story than your own.”

Musically, Switchfoot draws as much from the Police and James Taylor as from the Beatles and Stevie Wonder to create swirling guitar pop, full of effortlessly arching melodies and textures that shift in continual, sensual motion. “We’ve never fit in any of the genre boxes,” says Foreman. “I think that diversity is our strength.”

Produced by John Fields (Andrew W.K.) and mixed by Chris Lord-Alge (Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch), Tom Lord-Alge (blink-182, Rolling Stones) and Jack Joseph Puig (John Mayer, No Doubt), The Beautiful Letdown entered the Billboard Top 200 this past spring at #85. The album, which The Orange County Register described as “…a rousing rock testament of hope, dreams and inspiration,” can attribute its early success to lead single “Meant To Live,” which hit the Top 40 on the Modern Rock Chart (its companion video, directed by Laurent Briet (Radiohead), subsequently went into rotation on MTV2). Meanwhile, the band has been tearing up venues across the country during a three-month sold-out headlining tour. In addition to selling out four nights in Los Angeles, the quartet shared festival stages with the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Audioslave and recently performed on “Last Call with Carson Daly” and the “Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.”

Foreman credits the album’s raw, live edge to the band’s DIY attitude. “We didn’t want to waste time screwing around in a $1000 a day studio,” he laughs. “So we did all the pre-production in my bedroom. When we finally recorded the album, we did the whole thing in two weeks. John (Fields) works fast and so do we. There were no lunch or dinner breaks—we worked straight through and it turned out great. You can ruin things if you spend too much time in the studio.”

The Beautiful Letdown comes three years after Switchfoot’s third independently-released and critically acclaimed album Learning To Breathe. In between the two discs, the band won the 2001 ASCAP San Diego Music Award for “Best Pop Album” and “Best Pop Artist,” won the 2002 ASCAP San Diego Music Award for “Best Adult Alternative and contributed five songs to the gold-certified soundtrack for the Mandy Moore film A Walk To Remember (including a duet with Foreman and Moore). “We were at the movie premiere,” recalls Foreman, “And David Hasselhoff was sitting behind us bawling his eyes out with his daughter. It was a bit surreal.”

Over the course of the past several years, more than 40 Switchfoot songs have been used for several nationally televised shows, including “Dawson’s Creek” (five songs), “Regis and Kelly,” “Felicity,” and many more. “The context in which the songs are used can be pretty funny,” says Foreman. “I remember writing a song about spiritual longing and then seeing it played back during a hot tub scene on some show. The songs can wind up very far from the edge of the bed where they were originally written.”

Switchfoot’s roots can be traced back to the beaches of San Diego in the mid-‘90s, when the Foremans and Butler connected as surfers (Fontamillas joined in September of 2000). Though they competed in national surf championships on weekends and earned product endorsements from equipment companies, the real bond came from a common love of music. They decided to form a band, chose the name Switchfoot (a surfing term), put themselves through months of sweaty garage band workouts, and then hit the road. After just 20 gigs, they signed with re:Think records and released Legend of Chin in 1997. They’ve averaged 150 shows a year ever since, while selling more than 400,000 copies of their first three albums (Legend of Chin, New Way to Be Human and Learning to Breathe) combined. Shortly after recording The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot signed with Columbia. The album has since become the band’s fastest-selling record to date.

“Tim, Chad, Jerome and I have seen pretty much everything over the past six years,” says Foreman. “We’ve been at this ever since Tim graduated from high school. But this all feels like a new chapter. I think this album is where our future begins.


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SWITCHFOOT
REVIEWS BY JACOB SAHMS

Jacob is the Director of Youth Ministries at Bon Air United Methodist Church and serves as the volunteer campus minister for the non-denominational Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his alma mater, the University of Richmond (VA). 

Switchfoot kicked off their Columbia Records deal in 2003 with The Beautiful Letdown imploring each individual to seek a more meaningful life through faith and service to others. Their upbeat combination of rock and pop has been well-received and their message will never be outdated. If Bono has indeed transcended the role of rock star to social activist, the inspiration of Jon Foreman, Tim Foreman, Chad Butler and Jerome Fontamillas strikes at the apathy that possesses much of the world. Just as one must start back with Joshua Tree to fully appreciate Atomic Bomb, one must journey through The Legend of Chin, find a New Way to Be Human, and therefore graduate from Learning to Breathe 101 to see the intricacies of the Letdown. I’ll tackle some of those ‘inspired’ songs from the first three CDs, brought together in The Early Years: 1997-2000(released 2004), and then reflect on Letdown in light of Switchfoot’s lyrical history.

Legend of Chin

CD infoThe Legend of Chin (1997) kicks off with the manic tunes “Bomb” and “Chem 6A” as the themes of oppressive apathy and self-doubt seem to cloud the mind. Both songs touch on the lure of mind-numbing media and the fact that couch-potatoe-dom cannot be avoided when staring at the pictures on the TV screen. “Life and Love and Why” asks many of the hard questions about life and belonging that will be answered later in Learning and Letdown. “Could it be true/Can life be new/And can I be used” asks Foreman, wondering what about his life could be renewed and used for a greater good. He seems to have a decent idea about the answer to his own question but poses it with uncertainity in the final verse: “Could it be all that I am is in you/Could it be this/Could it be bliss/Can it be you/Can it be you.”

So the singer’s worth may be found in his relationship with the other (rather than in self), emphasized again in “You,” a postlude to “Life and Love,” as “hope is not in what I know/Not in me/It’s in you.” Who is the “you?” I have my bets… but “Ode to Chin” knocks the question out of the park: “Life’s more than girls/God’s more than words/You’re more than this.” There is already established category of what God isn’t—He’s not just mechanical, rhetorical or theoretical—and Switchfoot spends it’s musical history trying to dig deeper. Chin leaves their listeners with an understanding that things are often confusing, complicated, and painful, yet hopeful. And the pushing point is that Switchfoot thinks we should all reach out and use what we have to help others who need help. (Now, where have I heard that before…?)

Click any song below to listen to a sample mp3.
1. Bomb 2:45
2. Chem 6a 3:11
3. Underwater 3:46
4. Edge of My Seat 2:45
5. Home 4:02
6. Might Have Ben Hur 2:38
7. Concrete Girl 5:05
8. Life and Love and Why 2:53
9. You 4:13
10. Ode to Chin 2:13
11. Don't Be There 4:22

Total Running Time: 37:53

New Way to Be Human

CD infoNew Way to Be Human (1999) explores the themes of purpose, forgiveness, and belief from the very beginning, as the title track states: “You’re a new way to be human/Where my humanity bends/To a new way to be human/Redemption begins.” Here I think that Foreman’s Christian theology really takes off. When Jesus Christ broke into human history as fully God and fully human, we experienced a closing up of the “impossible space” between who we are and who we could be. This song admits to human incompleteness but recognizes that the “God of redemption” could break into human apathy and form new beings who become heroes, even when it appears that all the heroes are gone.

The truth is that it Jesus as fully God/fully man isn’t always easy to accept—human beings doubt! “Sooner or Later” includes the prayer “I look to find You/Down on my knees/Oh God, I believe!/Please help me believe” and “Let That Be Enough” echoes that with “Let me know that You hear me/Let me know Your touch/Let me know that You love me/And let that be enough.” Even when we have head or heart knowledge, Switchfoot recognizes the need for help from the other side of that belief—we can’t do this on our own. Rather, we require God’s help to believe in Him! The constant tension between the ‘common sense’ knowledge of God’s presence and the necessity of God’s presence swing the individual back and forth between despair and hope. The bottom line for New Way is still hope, as “I Turn Everything Over” and “Under the Floor” outline the individual’s complete surrender of everything he’d been holding onto, so that the plans God has made can be fulfilled (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

Click any song below to listen to a sample mp3.

1. New Way to Be Human 3:38
2. Incomplete 4:14
3. Sooner or Later (Soren's Song) 3:59
4. Company Car 3:13
5. Let That Be Enough 2:39
6. Something More (Augustine's Confession) 4:00
7. Only Hope 4:13
8. Amy's Song 4:30
9. I Turn Everything Over 3:21
10. Under the Floor 3:55

Total Running Time: 37:42

Learning to Breathe

CD info“I Dare You to Move” is the song from Learning to Breathe (2000) that was later included in Letdown—for which I will present two possibilities. One, “you”/Foreman, now a bigger player in the music scene, is being critiqued for his faith and music, exploring a misstep or the difference between “who you are and who you could be.” Two, the “you” in question is Jesus Christ who has recognized His mission, the goal of His life, and is being dared by the narrator to lift Himself up off the floor (as the infant child? of the not-yet-empty tomb?) and make a difference “between how it is and how it should be.” The narrator hints that maybe redemption and forgiveness wait with this “you,” and that he cannot escape from his mission, closing with the line “Salvation is here.” Either way, the questions require some thought on our part. What is waiting to be done that will go undone if we don’t get off the floor? Who needs our help? How can we be used by God to make a difference?

The title track once again talks about how life knocked the singer down again unexpectedly, and that “You” is the only one who can break his fall, who can teach him how to crawl, who can teach the singer how to breathe, who can take him “there.” “Love is a Movement” documents God’s giving His life to “put motion inside my soul,” renewing Switchfoot’s attack on human apathy and serving as a good model for their present agenda through DATA (providing funds and other aid for those suffering from AIDS, another U2-supported endeavor; see www.datadata.org). Switchfoot (and U2) wants nothing to do with “cold religion” and everything to do with a forward movement toward loving others and serving those in need.

The Gospel according to Switchfoot is well documented in the second half of Breathe: “The Loser,” “Erosion,” and “Living is Simple” all talk about life in terms that echo the Beatitudes. How? The losers win, erosion makes a person whole, and living is dying in three role reversals. Foreman writes that he is selling out by admitting that he wants to lose, with a “contract pending on eternity,” the backbeat of the last becoming first. The Holy Spirit is called upon to wash away his sins because he desires to live by dying to himself.

The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

CD infoHaving traveled from despair to surrender and from a struggle for consistency to hope, Switchfoot showcases the journey itself in The Beautiful Letdown. “Meant to Live” raises some of the same questions that peppered Chin: “Have we lost ourselves?...Maybe we’ve been living with our eyes half open, maybe we’re bent and broken.” “This is Your Life” can be boiled down to a life-altering question: “are you who you want to be?” How does someone make that kind of decision? It must come from knowing what matters most and by comparing yourself to that standard.

Switchfoot starts back toward the center by urging people to take responsibility for their actions. In “Ammunition,” Foreman sings that we as a community are the problem, that we can’t blame our issues on other people but must recognize that we’ve butchered love itself. To reassert love, “Dare You to Move” is reintroduced on this disk (see above comments) and immediately followed with “Redemption,” and this shameless allusion to the Jesus’ appearance to Thomas (Gospel of John, Ch 20): “I’ve got my hand in redemption’s side/Whose scars are bigger than these doubts of mine.” This act of redemption by Jesus Christ for the disciple who admitted his doubts also leads to “The Beautiful Letdown,” recognizing that we can’t make it on our own, that fame and fortune aren’t enough, and that we are called to share what we know to be true.

The second half of Letdown also touches on prior Switchfoot themes. “Gone,” resumes the battle cry for the love movement, even referencing U2’s Bono for his efforts in drawing attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa through DATA. In “On Fire,” the passion for living clearly comes from an intimate encounter with a “you” outside of self, possibly a romantic ideal but more probably God. And “Adding to the Noise,” the band encourages turning off whatever static is keeping their listeners from taking action.

Finally, for a final Biblical hurrah, Letdown closes out with “Twenty-Four,” which serves as a complete package of what Switchfoot has sung all along. Beginning with many illustrations of how the singer is dead last, and filled with many excuses for his own problems, it quickly turns to seeking the help of “Spirit.” Foreman writes that “you’re raising the dead in me,” once again referencing the resurrection of Christ but this time he places himself in the narrative by calling himself the ‘second man’(Luke 23)— the man who accepted Christ as he prepared to die next to him on the cross. Foreman also references Genesis 28 as well, where Jacob wrestles with the angel and becomes Israel, with a new name and a new identity. He does recognize that he wants more than a name, a cause, or a feeling, he wants a relationship with this Spirit that gives him the song to sing, and provides him with new life.

- Meant to Live - MP3
- This Is Your Life - MP3
- More than Fine - MP3
- Ammunition - MP3
- Dare You To Move -MP3
- Redemption - MP3
- Beautiful Letdown - MP3
- Gone - MP3
- On Fire - MP3
- Adding To The Noise - MP3
- 24 - MP3

In Conclusion

Having listened through the albums back-to-back, I’ve heard the changes that Switchfoot has made as they’ve matured into a rock and roll band for the 21 st century. From grunge and hard(er) core to guitar driven poprock, Switchfoot’s sound is more pleasing to the ear and the lyrics have deepened and broadened over time. Even more, the ideas that the group have wrestled with have become more complicated and more everyman as the group aged. No longer ‘merely’ dealing with depression and human relationships, the group has taken their sound out of the garage band/youth group audience to the broader scale ‘out there.’ Along with their need to bring the sound further has come a need to see their growing fame and fortune put to good use: for the good of those in need and to the glory of God who is “raising the dead” in all who listen.

 
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