Interrobang

Switchfoot

Fantasy, 2021

http://www.switchfoot.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/24/2022

I remember when Switchfoot was a rock and roll band.

Surfing San Diego brothers Jonathan Foreman (lead vocals & guitar) and Tim Foreman (bass) started a band in high school with their buddy Chad Butler (drums), added Jerome Fontamillas (keys) and Drew Shirley (guitar) along the way, and made a place on the scene for urgent rock that mixed the searching spirituality of U2 with a playful melodic flair and a healthy dose of Zeppelinesque crunch. The five albums Switchfoot issued between 2003 and 2011 remain the gold standard for thoughtful alt-rock in the early 21st century, with 2006’s Nothing Is Sound a distinct high point.

Ever since the appearance of 2014’s Fading West, though, the band has felt like it’s been on the run from its own musical legacy, turning hard in the direction of slicked-up mainstream electro-pop, a genuinely baffling choice for a band that ditched its major-label deal midway through the aforementioned five-album run in order to secure its creative freedom.

The group’s late-2021 release Interrobang marks another stage in this devolution, an album full of sincere intentions in which Jonathan Foreman’s perpetually seeking lyrics make a brave and impassioned attempt to grapple with the divisiveness prevalent in American society today. Bringing that passion to life in the form of a series of powerful rock songs could have made for a compelling and timely statement.

Except, that’s not what they did.

“Beloved” continues the band’s tradition of strong openers, an anthemic call to rise above the division: “If only I could open up my eyes / Would I see that maybe I need you / Like you need me?” The guitars aren’t prominent, but they’re at least present, and Foreman’s lyric captures the heart of the matter in stirring terms. If only this was a harbinger of things to come, rather than a brief nod to the band’s past.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The next four tracks offer a crash course in everything that’s gone wrong with Switchfoot over the past decade. “Lost ’Cause” thrums along steadily, but there’s not a grain of grit in sight; every edge has been sanded off the music, which is so smooth and polished that it ends up feeling lifeless behind a lyric that deserved better, another urgent call for connection and cooperation. After leading with a string section, “Fluorescent” reaches back for that big-guitar sound at the chorus, but processes the whole production through so many filters and sonic tweaks that the end result sounds more like a lab experiment than a rock song.

Foreman returns to his core concerns with “If I Were You,” echoing the sentiments of “Beloved” while setting it inside a hyperactive, gimmicky arrangement that catches fire briefly at the choruses but stumbles repeatedly in between. Next, “The Bones Of Us” offers an earnest, airy contemplation that’s beautifully rendered even if it sounds more like a Jon Foreman solo song than Switchfoot.

The album’s second half opens with perhaps the biggest lost opportunity of all. “Splinter” has all the inherent urgency and ambition needed to craft an epic heavy rocker along the lines of “Politicians” or “Dark Horses”—and instead the band drowns the song in synth effects and artificial atmospherics. Argh. “I Need You (To Be Wrong)” returns to the topic at hand with a typically incisive lyric that’s presented in a disjointed arrangement that veers back and forth between dull electro-pop and a charming late-Beatles haze. “The Hard Way” is another near-miss, a witty lyric inside an energetic arrangement that unfortunately relies on gimmicks instead of just letting the song breathe.

Once again, “Wolves” feels like an ambitious tune buried by overcooked production that this time leaves the end result feeling both lurching and ponderous. “Backwards In Time” thankfully strips back much of the gloss and artifice, though its guitars still sound too clean and crisp. Gently shambolic closer “Electricity” offers another sonic call-back to Abbey Road, an experiment that works reasonably well, with a strong vocal arrangement and warm guitar fuzz lurking in the mix.

It’s true that growth and change are essential for any artist, and that rock has historically been a young person’s game, and also that Switchfoot are not young men anymore. And yet Interrobang leaves this middle-aged rocker asking, again: where are the guitars, the muscle, the sheer blow-your-hair-back power? There is a fundamental contradiction in a band whose whole ethos is about authenticity choosing a sound that screams artifice.

I remember when Switchfoot was a rock and roll band. Maybe they will be again someday. After all, if there’s one thing this band is about, still, it’s hope.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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