Hello Hurricane

Switchfoot

Atlantic, 2009

http://www.switchfoot.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/02/2009

I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling the world could use a little inspiration right now.  It’s no accident that the word on everyone’s lips these days is “change” -- the undercurrent being, “we aren’t happy with the way things are.”

For the thinking artist, times like these are rich with challenge.  Superficiality won’t cut it, and you can’t inspire an audience as jaded as today’s without first acknowledging the cold hard reality they are knee-deep in already.  So how do you give them both the truth, and hope?

You do it by making an album as inspirational, aspirational, and all-out magnificent as Hello Hurricane, which I’m ready to call, right here on the second day of November, the album of the year.  

Much more than Switchfoot’s rather disjointed, experimental 2006 disc Oh! Gravity., Hello Hurricane feels like the true successor to 2005’s masterful Nothing Is Sound.  The bold, expansive, Zeppelin- and U2-influenced alt-rock of this San Diego quintet -- Jon Foreman (vocals/guitar), Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keys/guitar) and Drew Shirley (guitar) -- is as propulsive and compelling as ever, while their examinations of loneliness and resilience and discovering hope amidst despair have only grown more sophisticated and involving.

The disc opens with throbbing bass over skittering, martial-cadenced drums, joined by rippling, echoing guitar and finally keening vocals streaming in over the top -- which is to say, “Needle And Haystack Life” owes a lot to Joshua Tree-era U2, but of course that’s nothing but a compliment if you can pull it off, and they do, in spades.

Initial single “Mess Of Me” ups the emotional ante further with a burning tempo and slashing riffs as Jon Foreman wails over the top.  The music is driving, furious, cathartic, and matched perfectly to Foreman’s lyric about addiction and degradation and ultimately, channeling desperation into a drive for redemption (“I want to live the rest of my life alive”).

Balance is recovered in “Your Love Is A Song,” a chiming midtempo number that wraps love and belief and the act of making music up in a single healing moment of beauty.  Which in its own way makes the perfect segue into the eminently heavy (and concert singalong-worthy) “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues).”  Over apocalyptic guitar-drum thunder, Foreman leads one pounding chorus after another of “This is THE SOUND / Of…etc.” before quoting Mr. Perkins himself thusly: “Love is the final fight.”  And there’s the very essence of Switchfoot, a knockout hook that leads you to an accessible yet quite complex central idea, rife with layers of meaning both philosophical and -- if you care to go there -- theological.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Enough To Let Me Go” employs a gorgeous little acoustic riff as the foundation for an extraordinarily mature love song (“Do you love me enough / To let me go…” and, in a superb, Bono-esque falsetto, “Breathe it in and let it go / Every breath you take is not yours to own”).  The heaviness returns with “Free,” a pulsing, thrumming, arena-sized rocker in which Foreman again compares life as a human to being trapped inside a prison cell, where freedom can only be achieved through transcendence.  The song finishes nicely with a string section picking up the melody, one of a couple of places where strings are used effectively as texture.

The title track starts out with a simple riff and an airy chant -- the veritable calm before the storm -- until the rhythm section locks in underneath and the sense of urgency begins to build.  When verse first hits chorus, “Hello Hurricane” does what any great guitar-based pop-rock song should do – it explodes.  Beyond the propulsive music, though, it’s a song that summarizes the entire album in a meaningful way: “Hello hurricane - you’re not enough / Hello hurricane - you can’t silence my love / I’ve got doors and windows boarded up / All your dead-end fury is not enough / You can’t silence my love.”  The rest of the lyric is equally remarkable, the topic sentence of an artistic statement that works on every level -- music, lyrics, meaning, impact. 

As for the remainder of the album... for brevity’s sake, let’s just say that there’s no drop-off.  The dreamy, soaring ballad “Always” melts right into the churning, thrashing “Bullet Soul,” with its rocket-fueled guitar and Foreman’s hyper-emotive vocals (“Are you ready to GO?!”).  Later “Sing It Out” -- another ode the power of song to uplift and change -- achieves the same kind of dramatic build and stately beauty as “On Fire,” one of the band’s best- loved ballads.

Steady-on-to-the-horizon closer “Red Eyes” finishes with an abstract, compelling soundscape that recalls U2’s bravura melding of studio experimentation with transcendent music on Achtung Baby.  And indeed, from the thrumming build of “Needle and Haystack Life” to the buzz-saw guitar of “Bullet Soul,” the U2-isms are plentiful, with the most obvious lyrical nod coming in the opening line of the title track: “I’ve been watching the skies / They’ve been turning blood red.” 

Switchfoot doesn’t just admire U2’s musical and lyrical motifs, though -- they share that group’s fundamental ambition, which is to say, they want their music to matter.  Hello Hurricane is an album that, even as it’s transitioning from head-banging power metal to string-decorated ballads, makes a cohesive, inspirational statement.  Jon Foreman himself sums it up like this on switchfoot.com: “The storms of this life shatter our plans. They tear through our world and destroy our hopes and dreams… Hello Hurricane is an attempt to sing into the storm. Hello Hurricane is a declaration: you can't silence my love.”

And that is where Switchfoot succeeds in becoming more than just a rock band.

Because the reality is that it would be easy for an openly Christian band like Switchfoot to make their art inaccessible to someone like me.  I have no doubt that when Jon Foreman says “love,” a certain segment of his listeners hear “faith in Jesus Christ.”  But he never uses those words in these songs; he never puts up barriers between the band and those in their audience who are of other faiths, or none.  In a world beset with conflicts rooted in religious differences, what could be more meaningful than a very public demonstration that it’s possible to remain true to one’s own faith without excluding anyone who might believe differently? 

That’s part of what makes Switchfoot a great band, and what makes Hello Hurricane a great album.  Because right about now, we could all use a little inspiration.

Rating: A

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