The Beautiful Letdown

Switchfoot

Columbia, 2003

http://www.switchfoot.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/09/2007

Sometimes I go backwards. No, really, it happens a lot when you’re as in-and-out of the current music scene as I am. I’ve lost count of the number of bands who’ve become favorites of mine after I heard their, like, fifth album, only to have curiosity drive me deeper into their catalog.

Such was the case with Switchfoot, whose fifth album Nothing Is Sound was my starting point, before graduating to their more recent disc Oh! Gravity and now also their previous one, The Beautiful Letdown. (Stick around long enough and I might get all the way back to The Legend Of Chin eventually…)

The Beautiful Letdown is one of those transitional albums you see more and more of these days as formerly indie bands get signed to a major, cull the cream off the top of their indie career, repackage it with new material and try to break big before the label changes its mind. The twist here is that Switchfoot’s location outside the mainstream wasn’t so much within the indie world as within the CCM world. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The mainstreaming of Switchfoot required no change in the content of their lyrics, though; this is a group that’s always chosen to hit their audience with open-ended spiritual questions rather than preach. The hits were the re-recorded “Dare You To Move,” which first appeared on the band’s indie swan song Learning To Breathe, and the newer tune “Meant To Live.” Both are the kind of muscular, anthemic numbers that feel like a cross between U2 and Pearl Jam, without the self-conscious gravitas of either. Yes, this group -- Jon Foreman (vocals & guitar), Tim Foreman (bass & vocals), Chad Butler (drums) and Jerome Fontamillas (guitar and keyboards) -- tackles serious themes of yearning, loss and redemption, but there’s a kind of laconic charm to Jon Foreman’s lead vocals that suggest while he’s passionate, he’s hardly solemn.

In fact, there’s a genuine playfulness to the lyrics of tunes like the hammering, hummable “Ammunition,” the chiming-guitars-with-hip-hop-flow cut “Gone” and the chunky new wave number “Adding To The Noise.” Other tracks grab your attention with clever touches like the quirky, synth-heavy openings of “This Is Your Life” and “More Than Fine,” adding sonic spice to otherwise serious-minded and resonant songs.

When the boys do strip it all the way down on ballads like “On Fire” and “Twenty-Four,” they’re capable of creating soundscapes of real beauty and power. The title track fittingly brings several of these elements together, mixing electronic beats, a steady-building electric thump, chorused background vocals and a plea for spiritual brotherhood (“What a beautiful letdown, painfully uncool / The church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools”) that’s both humble and endearing.

The Beautiful Letdown was anything but, spinning off a pair of hit singles and cementing Switchfoot’s status as a major-label act. It’s kind of amazing to think these guys were still getting better when they recorded an album this good.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.