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Switchfoot - Fading West Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 7.5
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7.5
Production 7.5
Creativity 7.5
Lasting Value 7.5
Reviewer Tilt 7.5
Final Verdict: 75%
Member Ratings
Vocals 7.6
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7.15
Production 7.8
Creativity 7.25
Lasting Value 7.35
Reviewer Tilt 7.25
Average: 74%
Inside AP.net

Switchfoot - Fading West

Reviewed by: Craig Manning (01/13/14)
Switchfoot - Fading West
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Record Label: lowercase people/Atlantic


2004 was a weird year for breakthrough radio singles. If you look at the charts from that year, things don’t seem so out of the ordinary: the top two singles on the Billboard Hot 100 were both from Usher’s world-beating Confessions album (“Yeah” and “Burn,” respectively), with the rest of the top five rounded out by Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, and Outkast. Not such a different spread from the charts of either the previous year or the year that followed. Look at the rock charts, however, and things get a bit more interesting. Something must have been in the water at radio stations in 2004, because there were a few bands scoring hits that year that had never been on the radio before and would really never strike mainstream gold again. A few of them were debut artists, bands like Keane and Franz Ferdinand who are still making music today, but are doing so outside of the pop music limelight. A couple others, however, were scoring seemingly random hits off their fourth full-length records. The first was Modest Mouse, a blatantly unmarketable band that somehow managed to land two songs from Good News for People Who Love Bad News in the modern rock top 10. The second, as you probably already know given the review you are reading, was Switchfoot.

To be fair, Switchfoot always had mainstream potential. Prior to hitting it big on the radio with 2003’s The Beautiful Letdown (thanks to 2004 hits, “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move”), Switchfoot was making quirky indie-pop records with a gospel/Christian rock slant. While most people forget it today, Switchfoot was actually discovered by Charlie Peacock, the same veteran producer and label head that would send the Civil Wars to stardom nearly two decades later. “Dare You to Move” was initially on Switchfoot’s third record, Learning to Breathe, but failed to generate much radio traction, despite a feature in the Mandy Moore-starring film, A Walk to Remember. But as I said, something was in the water in 2004, and the band managed to score a couple hits, nab a few inclusions on Now compilations, and immortalize themselves as torchbearers of the mid-2000s radio rock/adult contemporary scene. In that regard, they played about the same role for the first decade of the new millennium as the Goo Goo Dolls played for the last decade of the old one.

Fast forward 10 years and Switchfoot are still trucking along, even though they haven’t had a single on the Billboard Hot 100 since 2005. In many ways, they’re still a lot like the Goo Goo Dolls in that they’re fully aware that they will never have a hit again, but are still churning out solid albums with great high points nonetheless. Also like the Goo Goo Dolls, Switchfoot have never made an album that’s great all the way through (2005’s Nothing is Sound was the closest), though certain individual tracks from each of their records (“Awakening” from Oh! Gravity, “Needle in Haystack Life” from Hello Hurricane, “Where I Belong” from Vice Verses) are as good as any rock songs that have come along in the past decade. Each of those tunes found the band embracing their penchant for writing big, beating-heart anthems, and with “Where I Belong,” the last song from their last record, I found myself comparing Switchfoot favorably to U2. I don’t think these guys will ever play to a stadium crowd, but if they do, they’ve certainly got songs with the scope to pull it off.

Funnily enough, the band’s latest album – their ninth studio record – actually does use U2 as a template, just not in the way I might have imagined two year ago. The album, entitled Fading West, consists of music that was written to accompany a film of the same name. Described by the band as “part rock documentary, part surf film, and part travelogue,” Fading West was at least partially inspired by U2’s Rattle and Hum, a rockumentary that doubled as that band’s seventh studio record. Just as Rattle and Hum saw U2 exploring new ground in North American – on their tour for 1987’s masterful Joshua TreeFading West finds Switchfoot traveling the world in search of killer waves and fresh musical inspiration. Do they succeed? Well…sort of.

Albums that double as rock films are always a risk, first because many fans will simply bypass the film and listen to the record, and second because the songs risk becoming little more than soundtrack fodder. Both of those problems have plagued Rattle and Hum for years, with many music writers still regarding the film as a disastrous move that could have easily taken U2 into toxic overexposure territory and destroyed their momentum in the process. The album itself generally gets a cleaner getaway, with songs like “Angel of Harlem,” “Desire,” “When Love Comes to Town,” and especially “All I Want Is You” perpetually ranking on lists of the band’s best material. Switchfoot does well enough navigating the minefield of the soundtrack album, mostly because they make it remarkably easy for fans to ignore the film. One could easily listen to this record and simply hear it as the next chapter in the band’s story, oblivious to the fact that the music is at all meant to be part of something bigger.

Unfortunately, one could also argue that the existence of the film hampers the effectiveness of the album by not allowing it to stand on its own two feet. Supposedly, the songs on Fading West were born from the liberating situations Switchfoot’s members experienced while traveling the world, observing a plethora of gorgeous locales, and losing themselves in the surf. On paper, this all sounds like a great idea, not only because the band has been built from the beginning on the dual passions of music and surfing (the name “Switchfoot” is a surfing term, after all), but also because transformative world travels often give songwriters the fuel they need to bring new sounds and thematic elements into their wheelhouse.

In some ways, then, Fading West is a great success, simply because it’s the most optimistic, invigorated, and downright happy these guys have sounded in years. After 2011’s dark, grunge-infused Vice Verses and 2009’s yearning, lovelorn Hello Hurricane, it’s good to hear the band sounding like they’re on the top of the world, and Fading West is packed to the gills with big, hopeful anthems. “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” kicks the album off in precisely this vein, with an atmospheric vocal loop and a serenely catchy chorus that makes you feel as you’re either resting in the eye of a hurricane or shooting through the center of a wave. “When We Come Alive” sparks with the same oceanic hugeness, thriving off “woah-oh” gang vocals and a pounding chorus that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 30 Seconds to Mars’ This Is War. Intentionally or not, Switchfoot definitely hit the stadium vibes I wanted from them on this album’s best tracks.

But while the music is almost always pleasing, it rarely has the adventurous spirit that I also hoped this album would have. Listeners will certainly hear bits and pieces of the band’s travels on this album, with traces of world music influence showing up on songs like “The World You Want” and “Ba55,” but for the most part, the band’s influences have stayed disappointingly close to home. Spurred forth by ace production from scene veteran Neil Avron (Yellowcard, Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory, etc.), Fading West is mostly just a straightforward and bombastic pop album. Switchfoot cribs moves from fun. throughout (most notably on “Let it Out,” where the “Some Nights” melody is none-too-subtly reprised), and spend most of the record slinging sweeping anthem (“All or Nothing at All”) after sweeping anthem (“Slipping Away”). It’s all perfectly pleasant, with Avron’s beat-heavy production (accentuating pounding drums, booming bass, and handclap breakdowns at every turn) taking it to a higher place. Still, the lyrics are mostly generic, naval-gazing fare – a fact almost made too obvious by the cliché song titles – and the songs themselves feel a bit light compared to the material that we know frontman Jon Foreman is capable of at this point.

Fading West is most successful in its final minutes, with ringing penultimate track “Saltwater Heart” functioning as the record’s definitive mission statement. “Maybe I could wash clean all my landlocked dreams,” Foreman muses on the verse. It’s a great lyric in a sea of unremarkable ones, and it could have easily functioned as the tagline for the Fading West film. The album’s grand finale, meanwhile, a propulsive bulldozer of a song called “Back to the Beginning Again,” is just as good, radiating layers of acoustic guitars, synths, chimes, and fiercely pounding drums for a closer that recalls both the scope and power of “Grown Ocean” from Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. If the whole record were as explosive as these final two songs, it might have been Switchfoot’s best. As is, Fading West feels like a somewhat minor release from a band that has never lacked for dependability. I respect the guys for wanting to make a big, optimistic pop rock album, and they largely succeed, filling this disc to the brim with cascading waves of sound that will sound perfect come the summertime. With that said though, it’s hard to completely love Switchfoot’s take on Rattle and Hum when we’re all still waiting for their Joshua Tree.

7.5/10

Additional InformationSwitchoot Is...
Jon Foreman - Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Tim Foreman - Bass
Chad Butler - Drums
Jerome Fontamillas - Rhythm Guitar, Keyboard
Drew Shirley - Lead Guitar

Track Listing
01. Love Alone Is Worth the Fight
02. Who We Are
03. When We Come Alive
04. Say It Like You Mean It
05. The World You Want
06. All Or Nothing At All
07. Slipping Away
08. Ba55
09. Let It Out
10. Saltwater Heart
11. Back To The Beginning Again

Produced by Neil Avron
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 34.
09:21 PM on 01/13/14
#2
Blake Solomon
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so right about them never quite being able to write a whold GOOD album. "Needle In Haystack Life" is such a misleading track to start that album. the rest is horrible!

i do think beautiful letdown is pretty solid throughout, but i havent heard the whole thing in at least 5 years. i'll be checking this out for sure.
06:08 AM on 01/14/14
#3
Craig Manning
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so right about them never quite being able to write a whold GOOD album. "Needle In Haystack Life" is such a misleading track to start that album. the rest is horrible!

i do think beautiful letdown is pretty solid throughout, but i havent heard the whole thing in at least 5 years. i'll be checking this out for sure.
I really have come to like Hello Hurricane, to be honest. I think about half the tracks on that album I really love, and half of them I don't care for much at all. But it definitely starts at this immense level with "Needle" and then never lives up to that again.

The Beautiful Letdown and Nothing is Sound are my favorite records of theirs. Both I think are very solid throughout, with the edge going to the latter. I think the band's loud rockers rarely work as well as their slower or more mid-tempo material. On Beautiful Letdown, I think the weak points are "More Than Fine" and "Adding to the Noise."

The rest of their catalog is hit or miss, I'd say. I like their first three records and think all of them have their moments, but I don't love any of them. Oh! Gravity is probably their least consistent work, as it has both songs that are great and songs that are entirely unappealing. And Vice Verses is about half great and half okay.
09:25 AM on 01/14/14
#4
combatchuckaa
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Switchfoot continues to make awesome music. Such a quality, solid group. Fading West is so good.
10:39 AM on 01/14/14
#5
Mikeallover
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I like the album but I'm still getting used to the lack of guitar driven songs.
10:48 AM on 01/14/14
#6
chrisstahl
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I really have come to like Hello Hurricane, to be honest. I think about half the tracks on that album I really love, and half of them I don't care for much at all. But it definitely starts at this immense level with "Needle" and then never lives up to that again.

The Beautiful Letdown and Nothing is Sound are my favorite records of theirs. Both I think are very solid throughout, with the edge going to the latter. I think the band's loud rockers rarely work as well as their slower or more mid-tempo material. On Beautiful Letdown, I think the weak points are "More Than Fine" and "Adding to the Noise."

The rest of their catalog is hit or miss, I'd say. I like their first three records and think all of them have their moments, but I don't love any of them. Oh! Gravity is probably their least consistent work, as it has both songs that are great and songs that are entirely unappealing. And Vice Verses is about half great and half okay.
I would say Nothing Is Sound is my favorite. I'll never forget downloading it and being pissed that my Internet was being really fickle and I only had a certain amount of time before I had to leave and I really wanted it on my iPod. I just looked at my iTunes purchase history, and my first purchase was in March 2004. Ahhh!!!!

Anyway, I'm not really familiar with their stuff prior to The Beautiful Letdown, and maybe I should be. A friend of mine always jammed a song that said something about A Company Car and I thought it was cool, but other than that... I would say Ok Gravity is my least favorite, but it has one of my favorite songs of their's, Awakening to be exact. I really like Circles also, such an intense chorus. After just a few listens though, I think Fading West is my favorite album as a whole since Nothing Is Sound.
11:34 AM on 01/14/14
#7
Blake Solomon
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explain to me why spotify would just have a "commentary" album available and not the real fucking thing?
01:19 PM on 01/14/14
#8
Merve
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Anyway, I'm not really familiar with their stuff prior to The Beautiful Letdown, and maybe I should be. A friend of mine always jammed a song that said something about A Company Car and I thought it was cool, but other than that... I would say Ok Gravity is my least favorite, but it has one of my favorite songs of their's, Awakening to be exact. I really like Circles also, such an intense chorus. After just a few listens though, I think Fading West is my favorite album as a whole since Nothing Is Sound.

If you want to dig back into their old stuff, I'd recommend starting with "You Already Take Me There," which is either off their first or second album, back when they were a 3-piece. In general, their old stuff is a bit rougher-edged.
01:31 PM on 01/14/14
#9
Ferrari333SP
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explain to me why spotify would just have a "commentary" album available and not the real fucking thing?
Just saw this myself like 10 minutes ago, and was like "WTF?"
01:33 PM on 01/14/14
Blake Solomon
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Just saw this myself like 10 minutes ago, and was like "WTF?"
me and ferrari are very disappointed everyone!
02:45 PM on 01/14/14
Fourchordwonder
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You nailed all of my thoughts on this album, Craig. Great review.
02:54 PM on 01/14/14
Craig Manning
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I would say Nothing Is Sound is my favorite. I'll never forget downloading it and being pissed that my Internet was being really fickle and I only had a certain amount of time before I had to leave and I really wanted it on my iPod. I just looked at my iTunes purchase history, and my first purchase was in March 2004. Ahhh!!!!

Anyway, I'm not really familiar with their stuff prior to The Beautiful Letdown, and maybe I should be. A friend of mine always jammed a song that said something about A Company Car and I thought it was cool, but other than that... I would say Ok Gravity is my least favorite, but it has one of my favorite songs of their's, Awakening to be exact. I really like Circles also, such an intense chorus. After just a few listens though, I think Fading West is my favorite album as a whole since Nothing Is Sound.

Oh! Gravity is half stuff that is really, really good (the title track, "Dirty Second Hands," "Circles, "Awakening,""Yesterdays," "In This Life") and half stuff that just bores me or does nothing for me. It took me a really long time to appreciate that album at all, just because I loved Nothing is Sound so much more.

explain to me why spotify would just have a "commentary" album available and not the real fucking thing?

That's really weird.

If you want to dig back into their old stuff, I'd recommend starting with "You Already Take Me There," which is either off their first or second album, back when they were a 3-piece. In general, their old stuff is a bit rougher-edged.

That's off their third, Learning to Breathe, which is definitely the best of their early stuff.

You nailed all of my thoughts on this album, Craig. Great review.

Thanks for reading!
03:22 PM on 01/14/14
OurLadyCoolbean
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Y'all are crazy about Oh! Gravity. Depending on the day, either that or Nothing Is Sound is my favorite SF album.

I'm not too thrilled about this, mainly because about half of Vice Verses was the worst music they've ever put out, but I am curious it so I'll probably pick it up, hating myself for it.
03:32 PM on 01/14/14
Craig Manning
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Y'all are crazy about Oh! Gravity. Depending on the day, either that or Nothing Is Sound is my favorite SF album.

I'm not too thrilled about this, mainly because about half of Vice Verses was the worst music they've ever put out, but I am curious it so I'll probably pick it up, hating myself for it.
Which Vice Verses songs did you dislike?
04:42 PM on 01/14/14
COLEMAN902
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explain to me why spotify would just have a "commentary" album available and not the real fucking thing?
I've noticed Spotify doing this lately. You just have to click the album title and then the real album is under "additional tracks" beneath the commentary version.
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