Switchfoot – Fading West

fadingwest

Switchfoot – Fading West
Atlantic
January 14, 2014

What It Sounds Like:  An overleaning pop record from the kings of theological and thought-provoking rock and roll.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat:  I love undeniable pop music.  Big guitars and rock ‘n’ roll may be my go-to, but I’m all about some sugary sweet beats and feel good singalongs.  Remember that David Archuleta song from back in two-thousand-eight called Crush?  I still blast that song through my speakers.  Judge me as you will.  How about some BBMak?  Until you’re back here baby / miss you / want you / need you so…

I can dig it!  Give me that new OneRepublic record, while you’re at it.  It was great!

With Fading West though, let me tell you my issue.  Hear me out.

Switchfoot have always been hard to nail down, but at their core, they’re a rock band.  I’ve grown up with them since I was eleven years old, and I feel by now, seeing as though they are on their ninth record, they should know the sonic structures that they should be operating within.  However…

Fading West is the farthest thing from a rock record.  It’s way too outside their norm.

I understand that bands evolve, and they should!  But this thing, featuring minimal guitars and drum machines, just sticks out like a sore thumb from their tried and true catalog.  Not only that, but John’s cliche lines and the record’s overproduction just push it over the edge for me.  Go throw on Slipping Away or All Or Nothing At All.  Throw on Let It Out, for goodness sakes.  It might as well be OneRepublic on the radio; you wouldn’t know any different!  It’s not that the tracks aren’t catchy; I’m actually a big fan of that great underwater-robot effect on All Or Nothing At All.  But that’s just one small piece of the larger picture.  The rest of it sounds phoned in, like what every songwriter and their mother is trying to write right now.

I’m pretty floored, because it’s a known fact that John Foreman and his crew are smart guys.   John knows more about religion and theology than you and I combined; I guarantee it.  So why is he writing a song called Saltwater Heart that just sounds so….standard?  I know their hearts lie on the Pacific, and surfing is in their blood, but as far as that song goes is concerned, what is it that makes it special or even slightly interesting?  Please, go listen to it and tell me!  Because on my own, I’m coming up short.

Should I give them a break?  What’s wrong with Switchfoot recording a pop album?  Hey, it’s self expression.  “We’ve been recording guitar driven tracks for years.  Let’s change it up, throw in some electronics and dance!”  Hey, I’d probably want to change it up after this many years as well.  But I’m just a lowly fan, feeling as though I know somewhat what to expect from a band’s new release.  In my opinion, if you want to take your sound as far as they did to the other side of the spectrum, that’s what side projects are for.  Johnny F and the Boys of Summer.  Hey, I would’ve picked it up.

It’s not all bad, of course.  The term “bad” is subjective anyways, because if something’s catchy, it’s catchy; no two ways around it.  But when it sounds so overdone, like Let It Out, you have to call it like you see it as well.  The kid’s choir in Who We Are?  Eh.  I’m not saying it’s not catchy.  But what I am saying is that this hairpin turn is too sharp.

Where’s the good?  Let me tell you.

Love Alone Is Worth The Fight is going to be hard to beat for song title of the year, and it’s only January.  Its single potential is unmatched as well – it’s got a killer keyboard effect that runs through the whole track that makes it destined for the charts.  Say It Like You Mean It, the heaviest track we have here, while still being worthwhile and enjoyable, still just sounds like a buried track off of Vice Verses, and it certainly wouldn’t make it on any “Best Of…” compilations.  That being said, it’s a breath of fresh air considering all the sugar that surrounds it, so I’m taking what I can get at this point.  At least they had the guts to record Ba55, which showcases a sexy bass line that is the all-star showstopper of the whole record.  The best song on the record though, with no question in my mind at all, is the emotional and powerful The World You Want.  It’s a powerhouse.

What you say is your religion / How you say it’s your religion
Who you love is your religion / How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion / All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion / Every breath is your religion

Is this the world you want? / Is this the world you want?
You’re making it / Every day you’re alive
Is this the world you want? / Is this the world you want?
You’re making it / Every day you’re alive

You change the world / You change the world
You change my world / Every day you’re alive
You change my world / Honey, you change my world
You change my world / Every day you’re alive

Maybe I’ve put these guys on a pedestal, thinking they could do no wrong.  I listen things like the enormity of the anthem When We Come Alive, and I can get into it, but only because…it’s an anthem!  Who can’t get into a record that makes you raise your hands and scream at the sky?  It’s got the classic woah-ohs and everything, but it still seems color-by-numbers.  Bring it up here, quiet it down there.  I’ve just heard it so many times before.

There’s almost a sense of guilt along with writing this review as a whole, because I’m an advocate of supporting a band through their ups and downs.  So while I’m still a die-hard Switchfoot fan, and you better believe I’ll buying their next record when it comes out in two-thousand-sixteen, Fading West is simply going to, for the most part, fade away into the background.  I’m sure John’s heart is in the right place, but Fading West is simply just the last horse to cross the finish line this time.  I guess one of their records had to finally come up short; I just wasn’t expecting it to be this one.

5/10

If you had to listen to two tracks:  The World You Want / Love Alone Is Worth The Fight

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