With their 10th album releasing today, here is my take on each of Switchfoot’s albums. I’ve found there are particular moods or sets of circumstances for which each one is just right for the moment; this is how it looks for me. For each album I’ve picked out one song that I think illustrates it best, and you can listen along by clicking on the links, which will open the song in a new tab. Enjoy!
1 – The Legend of Chin
This album is perfect for my questioning moods; it raises questions, and helps me process questions. Who am I, why am I here, what should I be doing, what’s my aim, what’s the point, why don’t things make sense, what do I do with doubt, is it a good thing, what do I believe when it comes to it, what matters…why…?
“It’s a longer way from yesterday to where I am today… all that’s in my head is in Your hands… scream to no-one, take your time, sing it louder, twist and shout… all of your hoping and all of your searching for what… ask me for what am I living… could it be true, can life be new, can I be used… give me a reason for life and for death… not in me, in You…what’s your direction..?”
2 – New Way To Be Human
This was my first introduction to Switchfoot. Jesus found and rescued me late 1999, and shortly after, a friend gave me an old-school mixtape to celebrate. New Way To Be Human was the final track on side B, and it fell off the tape half way through! But it was enough – I borrowed, and then bought the album, and the rest is happy history! So this album has been with me right from the beginning of my walk with God, and is deep enough to have been there for me throughout the journey, wherever it’s taken me. It’s even helped shape that journey as it has thrown in interesting philosophical ideas about life and faith, asked the deep questions, made space for the doubts and the wrestling with God, and taken me on some exciting adventures in vulnerable prayer. I’m so glad they’ve kept that depth over the years when so many other Christian musicians have felt the need to have all the answers and to always put on a show of positivity – that phoniness has put me off so many others, but Switchfoot’s honest questioning just keeps drawing me deeper in. I can’t fault New Way at all, except as with all of them, it’s too short!
“Divinity blends with a new way to be human… you’re the missing person now… give me a motive, swallow me whole… condemned to be free… oh God I believe, please help me believe… dreams of shrinking… all my sandcastles spend their time collapsing… let me know that You hear me… hey, I give it all away… sing to me of the song of the stars… out to start a fire in a barcode plastic world… breathing You in to blur the lines that mark where I begin and where You end… I’m an already-but-not-yet resurrected fallen man, come break this limbo, come define me… deep is the soul is the space I control…”
3 – Learning to Breathe
It’s an extremely close call but I think if I had to pick a favourite album this is it (though Nothing Is Sound, and Edge Of The Earth if I can count an EP, pretty much tie with it!). It actually feels like blue skies and a breath of fresh air to listen to, and as a sky lover I appreciate all the atmospheric references. I love these delicious songs for many reasons, but I come back to it time and time again when I’m in need of grace, especially when I’ve messed up, as there are so many lyrics in there that connect me back in to God’s grace and a heavenly perspective on myself. This is where they became my favourite band, and I couldn’t have found a better band to follow if I’d tried.
“I could use a fresh beginning too…I want to lose myself in grace…you’ve been given innocence again… grace is high and low… do me a favour ‘cause I’m playing for keeps… we are bruised and broken masterpieces but we did not paint ourselves… sweet Erosion, break me and make me whole…”
4 – The Beautiful Letdown
This one carries a sense of feeling far from home, that the shallow everyday is not all there is… this sense of holy discontentment has been very important to my faith journey over the years, keeping my eyes on the things that matter eternally (which come down to love), and from becoming too attached to the things that don’t (which come down to personal gain). Listening to Switchfoot, and this album in particular, I can never forget that what we see as normal is actually completely upside down compared to how it should be, and I should never become complacent in accepting things as they are but keep striving to make them better.
“We were meant to live for so much more… we want more than this world’s got to offer… more than oceans away from the dawn… we’re the issue, we’re ammunition… the tension is here, between how it is and how it should be… I don’t belong here… she believes in living bigger than she’s living now, but her world keeps spinning backwards and upside down… there’s more than what you’ve heard… I’m standing on the edge… I want to see miracles, to see the world change… I am the second man now…”
5 – Nothing Is Sound
This is a strong contender for a favourite, partly because it’s my favourite evolution of their sound so far, partly because it was when I really realised how much of a good thing I was on to with this band, and also because it’s carried me through so much. This is where I go when ‘nothing is sound’ to the extent I have no words to express it or to pray – when I’m frustrated with myself, when there seems no hope, but more often when nothing seems right with the world and all the news is bad. (For example, where do you start when your country’s whole political narrative is being driven and dominated by mass-media xenophobia, but you know we are one, allied to a country without borders..?) Here I find the prayers and heart cries, big-picture hope on the horizon without being sold short with easy answers. And it helps me look at the situation with compassion too, overcoming the tendency to respond with anger.
“I want more than my desperation, I want more than my lonely nation… we are slaves of what we want… I’ve been thinking about the meaning of resistance and a hope beyond my own… when will all the fighting end… nothing is SOUND!… please Lord don’t look the other way… does justice never find you, do the wicked never lose, is there any honest song to sing besides these blues… they’re selling shares of me again, I’m not buying it…I pledge allegiance to a country without borders… I don’t want to lose the common ground with the whole world upside down… let it go, open up your fist…”
6 – Oh! Gravity.
I know it wasn’t the best time for Switchfoot, but they seemed to channel the pure energy from that difficult period in a way I’ve not heard from them before or since, it’s amazing. I think if I had to name a single thing that makes me the fan I am it would be how they take imperfect raw materials, and work them into something sublime, far better than ‘perfection’ could achieve. There’s a stunning level of musical and lyrical creativity in this one. And when I’m feeling restless inside and need something new to push and pull at my thoughts, disturb my normal, wake me up from sleepwalking through life, break out my own creativity, or just to yell, this is where I go.
“There’s a fracture in the color bar, in the back seat of a parked car… are you really as tough as you think, you blink and you’re over the brink, you bleed but the blood runs pink with dirty second hands… you’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream we’re awakening… I want to wake up kicking and screaming… another line, another freeway, another freefall… I hated what I saw, golden eyes were dead… the future is a question mark of kerosene and electric sparks… souls aren’t built of stone, sticks and bones… as the dead moon rises, and the freeways sigh, let the trains watch over the tides and the mist, spinning circles in our skies tonight…”
7 – Hello Hurricane
Songs of love for God, humanity, partners, children, and self; love in all its forms, inspiring without being idealistic. Whatever the storm, where there’s real love of any kind, it will pull through. ‘Needle’ illustrates it best for me; a love song that doesn’t shy away from real-life imperfection of life together, but is yet euphoric. The highs and lows. And when they play it live for us I know they understand it works just as well for the artist-fan relationship too.
“We are once in a lifetime… it’s hard to free the ones you love when you can’t forgive yourself… Your love is a symphony all around me… love is the final fight… there is no song louder than love… back from the dead and all our leaves are dried, you’re so beautiful tonight… when I try to reach above I only hurt the ones I love… this is the day you were born and I am always yours… love is the one true innovation, love is the only art, don’t let ‘em blow it apart… she’s got teary eyes, I’ve got reasons why… if it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love… take what is left of me, make it a melody…”
8 – Vice Verses
As an activist, it’s easy to get worn down by the constant battles against the injustices of this world; the endless cycle of wins and losses in the things that I really care about, steps forwards and backwards in environmental and social justice, takes a toll on me. This album has a lot of ‘fight’ for the times when I can’t find it in myself; so many times I have come to it broken, and it lets me have my cry out, but then gives me the kick I need to press on and come back fighting again. The lyrics meet me at my lowest ebbs of hopelessness, and carry me through it, never letting me fall too far from the energy and determination I need to pick myself up and keep going.
“I’ve tasted fire, I’m ready to come alive, I can’t just shut it up and fake that I’m alright… every fight comes from the fight within, I’m the war inside… running hard for the infinite with the tears of saints and hypocrites… we’re still on the air, it must be the truth, we’re selling the news… no I’m not alright, feel like I travel but I never arrive, I want to thrive not just survive… hope makes the blood change courses… just another scarecrow choking on a cough OH COME ON!… the curse is spoken, the system’s broken, let’s rise above it… I want to see the earth start shaking, I want to see a generation finally waking up inside…”
9 – Fading West
This album is full of sunshine, and it sounds incredible on the beach or at a summer festival. But whether or not it feels ‘sunny’ at the time, these songs are full of brightness. This album landed in my life during a really difficult winter (along with Fiction Family Reunion – took me a while to track that one down!) when I was in an awful housing situation, and those two albums lit up that dark period. I’d take them with me on long cycle rides down to the sea, sit on the dunes, watch the waves and be reminded of better things – that whilst I didn’t have anywhere to call ‘home’ right now, maybe this was a reminder that ultimately nowhere here would ever be ‘home’ when I was made for something bigger… that difficult times pass… to put aside my own circumstances and focus instead on making the world I want, and supporting others in the stuff they’re struggling with, and breaking down ‘us and them’ divisions in society… There’s an element of escapism to it, but the lyrics remain rooted in reality and a true perspective.
“I’m trying to find where my place is… eyes open like a child… it’s gone, yeah but we carry on… is this the world you want, you’re making it, every day you’re alive you change the world… every breath is your religion… our hope is just a metaphor for something better… let my soul fly, let it go… we won’t stop till we’re getting it right… sick of all the small-talk dripping non-stop from the open mouth graves of the faux hawk cinderblock malls… I can feel the ocean… my heart is Yours and what a broken place it’s in, but You’re all I’m running for and I want to feel the wind at my back again…”
10 – Where The Light Shines Through
Even after these nine incredible albums, this collection still surprises. As with Oh Gravity, it’s a stunningly musically creative album, and the band sound very much like they’re having fun experimenting with styles and pulling it off beautifully. Running through it all is a theme of hope for broken relationships, whether personal or within wider society. It’s been with me less than two weeks as I write, but it’s already put its finger firmly on a few of my issues, and pointed me to the hope that they can heal. I’m not feeling like I’m in a place where I can talk more about that yet; it’s early days, some of it is very personal, and will take some dealing with to get to a point where I can share about my particular ‘wounds’ and the healing process, but I find these lyrics already at work. It’s also arrived at a point where things look pretty dark politically in both the US and UK, and here I find songs to sing into that darkness. Finally we really get to hear their musical skills, so evident when you see them live. This is an album we will be able to hold up to show what they’re capable of.
“Your wounds are where the light shines through… if the house burns down tonight I got everything I need with you by my side… my enemies weren’t the ones that I had fought, my liberties weren’t the freedoms I had sought… I keep feeling like we fall apart better than we fall in love… bring me the music for the revolution, I’m singing for more than just a dead solution… everybody wants to rock and roll but a couple of years and it takes a toll and I want to start healing… America who are you, do you get what you deserve, between the violence and entitlements, which nation do you serve… Your hope is the anthem of my soul…”
If you like what you hear or want to explore more, you can buy the music and read more at switchfoot.com – please support this amazing band! 🙂