It’s been nearly three years since the first new studio album from Switchfoot, but Hello Hurricane finally came out this week. They’ve been busy touring, recording, dropping their record label, and working on side projects. Frontman Jon Foreman released a series of solo albums for each season between 2007 and 2008, and he and Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins released an album as Fiction Family earlier this year.
I’ve only been a Switchfoot fan since their first “mainstream” album, The Beautiful Letdown, came out in 2003. Not coincidentally, I became a fan about the time they made a tour stop at Harding in support of that album. I’ve seen them live four times since, but not since Oh! Gravity came out in 2006.
Switchfoot’s sound has changed somewhat over the years, and they’ve endured some criticism on at least two fronts: (a) for “softening” the Christian message in their songs by essentially dropping direct references to God, and (b) for “hardening” their sound to reach more of a mainstream rock audience. Personally, I prefer the newer sound as a fan of mainstream rock, and I don’t have a problem with the band’s lyrical content, which I think is second to none.
Anyway, Hello Hurricane is a pretty good album, at least from my early take. I’ve listened through about four times now and found 4-5 songs I like a lot, with the title track perhaps being my overall favorite. I generally like the harder songs initially (i.e. “This is the Sound” and “Bullet Soul”) and take longer to come around to liking the slower songs.
Then again, Switchfoot does something great where I think some pop-rock bands fail. They mix softer and harder songs, but their softer songs all seem to have a unique feel and rhythm, whether through an acoustic guitar or wandering bass line. As a result, all of their songs are re-listenable, rather than just a few.
On Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot continues that mix, although I think they’ve done it less effectively than on their last three albums, each of which was full of excellent songs. I think they may have peaked with Nothing is Sound, although it was a very small peak, and they haven’t declined precipitously even on Hello Hurricane. I enjoy “Mess of Me,” “Your Love is a Song,” and “Free,” but I don’t see them (yet) in quite the same bright light as I did “Stars,” “The Blues,” and “Happy is a Yuppie Word” four years ago. There are plenty of great lines and hooks, but their quality is down as a whole.
As a parting shot, I’ll note that Switchfoot has supposedly recorded “four albums worth” of material in the last 3 years, and they are currently planning to release another album early next year. So, it could be that they’ve spread out their best material, in which case I’d say they’ve been truly prolific over the last three years. I wouldn’t change my ranking from a few years back; they’re still the best mainstream or Christian band for my money.