Meta note: This is my first attempt at a style of review that makes more sense to me than what I’ve done occasionally in the past. While I don’t feel qualified to criticize the musical content of most recordings, that’s not the only important aspect to me when I’m listening to music myself. Hopefully this type of review will express that, getting out my opinions on the other important aspects, while leaving the musical criticism and related commentary mostly alone. With that in mind, consider that the rating I give an album does take into account my views on the musical content and style, which may be very different from your own. I’m also not satisfied with the “5 star” system, or really any system, but it’s what I’m doing for now. You can call it 9 out of 10, A-minus, or ignore it completely. Now, on to the review.
Title: Oh! Gravity
Release Date: December 26, 2006
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
- Oh! Gravity
- Dirty Second Hands
- Amateur Lovers
- American Dream
Band composition: Jon Foreman (lead vocals/guitars), Drew Shirley (guitars), Jerome Fontamillas (vocals/guitars/keyboards), Tim Foreman (vocals/bass), Chad Butler (drums)
Musical styles and characteristics: Pop/Rock; Experimentation in rhythm and meter; Driven by lead guitar, vocals, bass, or all three, but mostly by the latter two
Themes: Christianity, Love, Unity, Nationalism, Materialism
Artist’s Goal: The band’s goal was to make an album that more closely reflected the energy of their live show while building upon the evolving sound that has driven them to recent mainstream success (The Beautiful Letdown and Nothing Is Sound).
Switchfoot successfully made this album more up-tempo and high-energy, without sacrificing much musically. During the recording sessions, they reportedly used the first take on several tracks, without paying attention to the minor details of the performance, in order to keep things more like a live performance. As a result, there are a few off-key vocals and rough changes that would normally be removed or altered in a studio recording, but they don’t take away from the overall product.
While I do prefer their previous two albums to this one, Oh! Gravity represents another step in Switchfoot’s maturity, which is especially apparent in the lyrical content. This time around, they’re a little more up-front, challenging listeners not to accept what they’ve been handed and to strive further for unity and love for each other.
The title track, as well as “American Dream,” “Amateur Lovers,” and “4:12” are among my favorites, and they express the same sentiments that Switchfoot fans are used to, including the ones listed above. Other tracks, including “Faust, Midas, and Myself” and “Circles” are a bit of a departure from the usual but express the aforementioned continuing maturity and depth. Overall, it seems they’re doing what they do with more creativity than ever. While experimentation doesn’t always make for the most listenable songs, I feel like they’ve pulled it off once again and created another successful album. Right now, it seems that Switchfoot remains unparalleled in creating deep, introspective, and creative music that is also fun and catchy enough to create a mass appeal.
There’s not really any filler on this album, which is notable because that is so rare for a contemporary album. It’s also one of the things that helped push Switchfoot up to the top of my list of current artists. The album stands alone quite well, and it’s a fairly quick listen at around 45 minutes. Obviously I recommend it, even the label of “Christian” music turns you off. The influence is obviously there if you’re looking for it, but I think the album is clearly more of a social commentary than it is an attempt at evangelism or a collection of praise songs. That’s part of why Switchfoot is so successful in the mainstream, and it’s probably another reason I like them so much, because they expand my thinking. If you’re not already familiar with them, I hope you’ll let them expand your own thinking and entertain you at the same time.