The Beautiful Letdown
Christian rock bands have had an increasingly important role to play in mainstream music charts in recent times. Lifehouse, P.O.D. and Sixpence None The Richer have all come to prominence, and while God is by no means the new rock n’ roll, it’s clear that the days of Christian music being confined primarily to gospel are gone.
Armed with a diverse and edgy modern rock sound, Switchfoot are the latest Christian band to attempt to win over the secular music-buying public, and, as evidenced on The Beautiful Letdown, they certainly won’t need divine intervention to aid their success. Before Columbia signed them, the San Diego quartet had already achieved a respectable level of success, shifting over 200,000 copies of their previous three albums, including their wonderfully-titled debut The Legend of Chin in 1997. Inclusion on the Walk To Remember soundtrack last year raised the band’s profile, and the release of this record is their chance to capitalize on that.
The first single “Meant To Live” already has garnered national radio play, and it’s not hard to see why. The song’s fat, spiky riff and rousing chorus will be instantly appealing to modern rock fans; the sharp production and mix by John Fields and Jack Joseph-Puig give a good song even more power and presence. For the newcomer to Switchfoot’s music, the song also provides a glimpse at vocalist/songwriter Jon Foreman’s thoughtful lyrics, which are definitely spiritual but never overtly Christian: “We were meant to live for so much more/Have we lost ourselves/Have we lost ourselves?”
Indeed, Foreman himself has described The Beautiful Letdown as a concept album of sorts, focusing on the trials and tribulations of existence as a human in a beautiful, but often ugly and unforgiving world. This bold theme is certainly evident but not overpowering on songs questioning human choices, such as the synth-flavoured and quite brilliant “This Is Your Life.”
Foreman’s knack for a killer melody is initially more noticeable than his lyrical prowess, and if Columbia hasn’t already decided on the band’s second single, then the Third eye Blind take-off “Gone” should be at the top of their list. Such a bright, bouncy rock song could be a huge smash, but then again, so could the quirky “More Than Fine”.
Other strong songs are the vigorous and punchy “Ammunition,” the impressive power-pop of “Redemption” and the excellent re-make of the epic “Dare You To Move” from an earlier Switchfoot album, and which powerfully reinforces the album’s central theme. The band slows things down with the dark and moody title track and some noteworthy ballads, of which the delicately beautiful piano-led “On Fire” and closing track “24” showcase Foreman’s impassioned voice as well as the quality musicianship of his cohorts Tim Foreman (bass, vocals), Jerome Fontamilla (guitars, keyboards) and Chad Butler (drums).
Modern rock, as July For Kings and Juliana Theory have shown, can have more substance to it than the inanity of brain-dead songs about chicks and high school, and with The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot has added another mark of quality to the genre. They may not groundbreaking, but they are melodic and contemporary enough to prove popular with radio audiences regardless of any religious beliefs they may hold.