Fans may be confused
Reviewed November 2009
lowercase people records: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Where is Switchfoot?
That's likely to be the question fans of the San Diego-based Christian alt-rockers ask themselves on listening to "Hello Hurricane," the band's latest outing. Those who found themselves hooked on the band's trademark melding of harsh guitar, gorgeous melodies and an informed Christian worldview in their lyrics will find only the last part still present with any consistency on their first studio album since "Oh! Gravity" in 2006.
A move away from Sony and to their own in-house label, lowercase people records, promised to free the band from corporate constraints and let them get back to their alt rock roots.
But the opening track, "Needle and Haystack Life," sounds far closer to U2 than it does anything Switchfoot has ever done: power ballad with soaring, multi-tracked vocal harmonies and indistinguishable instrumental tapestry behind the vocals. Almost as overproduced are "Always" and "Bullet Soul" (although the last one at least is marked by the typical Switchfoot puncho on the chorus).
Still, lead singer and founder Jon Foreman is too good a songwriter to be denied for long, and "Enough to Let Me Go" is an absolute gem: Great hook, spare arrangement, relaxed vocal. Mark it up as one of the band's best songs yet. The title track is a nice little rocker (although the vocal harmonies again hew a bit too close to the patented U2 sound for comfort), and "The Sound" and "Mess of Me" both have the kind of raw edginess that marked the band's early recordings.
But too often elsewhere, there's an unneeded gloss to the music that masks what has always been Switchfoot's strength: A grounded intensity that lends their unorthodox (for mainstream rock) lyrics an honesty and believability they might not otherwise have.
It may be that in years to come, "Hello Hurricane" will be seen as a transitory phase as Switchfoot moved from the style that led to their earlier success to something different, perhaps something better.
But for now, on its own, it's a bit confusing and, thus likely to disappoint many longtime fans.
Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).