Hi fans! Once again, Job (of We’re Awakening) and I are here to review Switchfoot’s latest musical offering for you all! We’re doing a joint song by song review, so sit back, get comfortable and enjoy!:
Shortly after I received my copy of Vice Verses back in July, Job and I had a lengthy discussion on the new album. During the course of the conversation I said, “Hello Hurricane was like they were saying “We lost who we were. And we just found it again.” But Vice Verses is all “WE KNOW WHO WE ARE FOOL!” (I promise, I don’t normally express myself that way. I don’t have a gansta bone in my body!) Job and I got a good laugh about it, but upon further reflection, and as I sat down to write this review, I realized that statement, as stupid as it sounded, was actually, quite accurate. Hello Hurricane was an emotional work of highs and lows, pain and triumphs. It was real, brave, and honest, but it wasn’t particularly bold.
Vice Verses is bold.
Vice Verses is unapologetic.
Vice Verses is no-holds-barred, we’re-giving-this-everything-we-have-and-more.
This is the closest Switchfoot has ever come to taking the dynamic energy of their live show and placing it on a studio record. There are so many little touches, from Jon’s “Come on boys, let’s play it out!” in Where I Belong, to his “Yeah’s!” and punchy “ad-libs” that just work together to give this album a concert feel. And just like you can’t help but to rock out at their live show, this is Switchfoot’s most danceable record yet.
Vice Verses is METICULOUS in detail. I’ve been playing this music heavily for well over a week and I keep picking up more and more layers, more and more “hidden” gems. I love an album that doesn’t finish after the first listen. Musically, I feel that this is the best thing Switchfoot has ever done.
It’s an absolute honor to have the gift of this album and to have the privilege of reviewing it all for you.
FAVORITE LINE: “I’ll let it burn the way the sunlight burns my skin, the way I feel inside, the way the day begins…”
Hit play. Guitars crunch. Then. Jon Foreman’s distinctive wail, “I’ve tasted fire, I’m ready to come alive…” It’s the first song of the new album, and already everything is screaming, “BUCKLE UP FOR THE RIDE! IT’S GOING TO BE INSANE.” Afterlife is the perfect opening – a tasteful mix of the classic Switchfoot sound and a healthy dose of their new experimentation.
Lyrically, this tune might seem like it’s contradicting the other songs on the album – i.e. Where I Belong, Blinding Light – songs that long for a hope and a home that can only be found on the other side of life. But it’s not – it’s a battle cry, a call to wake up, come alive, fight apathy, fight laziness and to live life to the absolute fullest. A standard Switchfoot message that is given a new musical treatment. Unfortunately, the lyrics seem to weaken and get a bit repetitive on the second verse, but the music is strong enough to make up for it – or at least cover it.
The hook in the chorus, “And I wonder why would I wait till I die to come alive?” is INSANELY good. Just TRY to get it out of your head – but make sure it doesn’t distract you from Romey’s absolutely STELLAR keyboard work. It took 9 listens before I picked up on it… as I said earlier, this album is layered and meticulous.
FAVORITE LINE: “So you say you’re just a face in the city race, wasted and sick of it all”
Let me just say it right now – this is my least favorite song on the album. I hate being critical, but I just can not get behind the chorus of this song. I have no problems with the music (solid drumming from Chad especially) and I actually really like the verses – there’s some great visuals and wordplay in there. But the chorus is a bit of a problem for me. “Speak your mind up, come on baby free yourself, no one can do it, free yourself, ain’t nothing to it, free yourself, don’t let nobody try and steal your soul, you’re the original” Maybe I just expected something a little less straight forward. It’s not the subject matter that I’m struggling with… I respect the fact that Jon writes honestly about where he is at, and the issues he’s facing. I guess, I just find the chorus of The Original lacking Jon’s usual poetic creativity. It is a good, pumping, “be who you can be” tune though, and many fans will strongly disagree with me – especially when rocking out to this song live. I’d welcome disagreements – sometimes I feel like someone else’s perspective can help me understand a song better. So if you feel that I’m totally out in left field with this, post below!
On to the positive. I give them props for the Canadian “Ehhhh’s”! LOVE IT. Very nice touch fellows. Also, Tim’s backing vocals throughout the whole song are first-rate. The music is solid and aggressive throughout the whole track, and there’s some fantastic “wait-am-I-at-a-switchfoot-concert?” touches – i.e. Jon’s grunts and the screaming bridge “Come on now! Come on now! Yeah!” with Tim punctuating each cry with “Ohhhh! Ohhhh!” Nicely spaced. Jon’s falsetto makes a welcome appearance, which amps up the energy and makes the song a lot of fun to sing along to. It’s one of the definite rockers on the album.
THE WAR INSIDE
FAVORITE LINE: “Ain’t no killer like pride, no killer like I, no killer like what’s inside”
The War Inside begins with a melodic cacophony of sound, but just when you’re getting into the groovy sound effects (Romey and Drew), Jon’s electric, restrained vocals kick in. “Put your hands up open by wide” he sings, his voice tempered with restrained aggression. This song absolutely SMOLDERS. I can’t help but picture a bed of red hot smoldering coals, flickering with a bright flame. This song uses all the elements at it’s disposal – from backing vocals (one of the definite high points, executed brilliantly by Tim) to the music, from lyrical pronunciation to quirky sound effects – all to work together to build a solid wall of support around the words being sung.
Lyrically, “the real problem is ourselves” is a topic that Jon has wrestled with many times before, but he’s never sounded so fed up, so frustrated, so absolutely sick of the problem until now. The monotone, almost emotionless tone with which he sings the verses changes into self-relazation as he sings the chorus, “I am the war inside, I am the battle line, I am the rising tide, I am the war I fight.” A hint of aggression begins to filter through – “I can feel it like a CRACK in my spine” – suggesting that there is some pent up frustration that’s about to come out. The lyrics and music are both carefully reined, only to be set free at just the right moment to underscore the lyrics. All is released as the tension continues to build throughout the song until Jon is lashing out “I AM THE WAR INSIDE!” his voice naked and raw.
This song was mixed brilliantly as it almost feels like Jon’s voice is coming from inside your own head, especially when he sings “Every world is made by make believe” whispering the final two lines. This song crawls into your subconscious and address the fatal flaws that we try so carefully to hide – and then wrestles with these flaws in an all out brawl. One of the most powerful songs on Vice Verses.
FAVORITE LINE: “Until the sea of glass we meet, at last completed and complete, where tide and tear and pain subside, laughter drinks them dry…”
Sometimes your memories with a certain song begin long before the album is released – and this is one of those songs. I was fortunate enough to be there the very first time Jon ever played this song live, and I’ll never forget the crowd reaction when he began to play. The whole auditorium went absolutely silent… utterly still. After the show, you kept hearing people say “That new song he played? Yeah. That was GORGEOUS.”
One of Switchfoot’s strongest assets is their ability to write a song that are heart-breakingly honest and yet, completely relatable. “Restless” is one of those songs – the aching, longing for something more, for peace, for God, is beautifully expressed here, expressed in such a way that the pain feels like your own. “I run like the ocean to find your shore…” Jon sings, his voice laced with anguish. Jon is not shying away from the pain – a pain that is so intense that “Even my blood finds ways to bleed” – but neither does pain rule the song, as that concept is turned into one of hope. “I’ll be waiting, anticipating, all that I aim for, what I was made for, with every heart beat, all of my blood bleeds, running inside me, looking for you.”
Originally a poem, lyrically “Restless” feels like a Psalm of David to me. I feel like the writing in the verses and bridge is some of the strongest on the record. The words play out, sketching out a journey, where the end is not found, but acknowledged. “Until the sea of glass we meet, at last completed and complete” Jon sings. The song aches, questions and searches, and Jon’s plaintive vocals are equal parts soft and powerful.
Many have wondered if the studio version does justice to the live recordings, and while some of emotion is lost in the studio recording, the beauty of the song transcends just as well on the album as it does live. Beautiful.
FAVORITE LINE: “Hey boy, don’t believe them, we’re the nation that eats our youth, hey boy, don’t believe them, none of us are bullet proof”
As soon as the vocal on this catchy tune kick in, you’ll probably be caught off guard – I certainly was. They’ve got an almost… Jamaican? feel to them. Jon’s bouncy, soul flavored singing is backed by a solid core of group backing vocals, giving off the feeling of a bunch of surfer dudes sitting on a beach, gathered around a bongo drum. The feel-good vibes continue as the pop-infused chorus kicks in, with soaring music and uplifting vocals. “Still looking for the blinding light, still looking for the reason why, still looking for the sun to shine…”
The second verse brings back to that Jamaican beach beat and Chad’s strong drumming (laying a perfect foundation for the song to be built on) is really showcased here. It’s subtle, so pay attention to it so that you won’t overlook it’s brilliance.
The song writing is solid, nothing new here, but this song feels so fresh that there doesn’t need to be anything out of the ordinary. There’s well written phrases and some clever imagery, all Jon Foreman staples, infused with a huge dose of hope. This song is a break in the relentless self-examination of “Restless” and “The War Inside”, though the lyrics continue the search for more meaning, more life, more purpose.
Lyrically and musically, this might not be the most innovative song that Switchfoot has ever done, but it just feels SO VERY GOOD. It’s got that same everything-is-right-when-I-play-this-song vibe as “Daylight to Break” and “Setting Sun”, but there are just enough new Switchfoot touches – STELLAR backing vocals on the final few chorus (Tim is really knocking those out of the park on this release) and strong drums and bass lines – to set the song apart. I love how each main section of the song has a very different feel: the beach infused verses (a touch of brilliance), the subtle ballad-esque lead in, and then the soaring chorus. It all just feels so right!
SELLING THE NEWS
FAVORITE LINE: “The lines start to blur, I get so confused, I get shiny new models mixed up with the blues, I get binary code mixed up with abuse, the facts are simply one option to choose, when nothing is sacred, there’s nothing to lose”
“Is that… SWITCHFOOT?!” Play this song for anyone who is even slightly familiar with the music of our favorite San Diego musicians, and that will probably be their reaction. Really, Jon’s voice might be the only thing recognizable as the guys explore new avenues and a whole different style of music.
Jon has said that this song is the closet he’s ever come to rapping, and even though he might be “a skinny white boy from San Diego”, it absolutely WORKS on this song. The spoken word lyrics give new power to the scathing commentary on our society’s obsession and unfailing faith in the media (“We’re still on the air, it must be the truth”). Layered over strong drum beats from Chad, the rhythm of this song is undeniable. The aggression and frustration in the song builds steadily until Jon is practically spitting out the words, his voiced laced with exasperation. The upbeat, catchy chorus is a fantastic element that tops and completes the spoken word verses, working to make the song instantly danceable.
I feel like “Selling The News” features some of the best lyrics on the new album, definitely on par or better than the magnificent writing on 2005’s “Nothing Is Sound”. The words are honest and even a bit harsh, challenging and unforgiving. The interesting element of this song is that Jon seems to be including himself in the problem, saying “We’re selling the news” instead of finger-pointing and taking the easy way out. But then, he’s never been one to blame others without first looking at himself. In my opinion, this type of honesty is what makes this song so good – it doesn’t shy away from the truth and it’s not politically correct. I’m really hesitant to say too much about this song because it’s SO good and SO fresh that I don’t want to spoil it for you by over-explaining it. Let me just say this – it’s DEFINITELY the most exciting song on the release – and it’s going to be the most talked about song on Vice Verses.
FAVORITE LINE: “No I’m not alright, I know that I’m not right, a steering wheel don’t mean you can drive, a warm body don’t mean I’m alive, no I’m not alright, I know that I’m not right, feels like I travel but never arrive, I want to thrive not just survive”
My favorite song on the album. Period. It might even be my favorite Switchfoot song of all time because I’ve never NEEDED a song to be written as much as I needed this one. From your comments, I know a lot of you felt the same way. The moment I heard “Thrive”, from a recording at one of Jon’s aftershows, I was literally speechless. We always talk about how much we can relate to Switchfoot songs, so much so that it feels like Jon’s been peeking in our diaries, but it’s never been more true for me than with this song. For me, this song is pretty much word for word, my own thoughts and emotions, and I’m struggling to remain objective in this review – because this song means more than I can ever say.
Since the live version of this song has been so popular with fans, many were worried that the studio version wouldn’t measure up to the acoustic performance, so let me reassure you. As good as the live recording was, the studio cut by far surpasses it. Jon’s vocals are better, the pacing is more even, the sound is more spacious, and the core of the song – the quiet intimacy, the aching soreness – remains beautifully intact. The acoustic guitar has been traded in for an electric guitar sound that is surprisingly sensual and… dare I say it… sexy? I know many a fan is gasping in horror at that description, but trust me on this one. The music, Jon’s quiet vocals, the haunting breathy echos, and the sheer rawness of the subject contribute as well.
There’s a lot of space in this song but the song does not feel stripped by any means. It benefits from the space instead of getting lost in the emptiness. The lyrics of this song play as a confession – a confession to oneself and God – an honest look at where the soul is at before bravely admitting, “No I’m not alright. I know that I’m not right.” Through the confusion and pain, there’s a grasping for hope, for life, as Jon sings “I want to thrive, not just survive.” As the song soars to it’s conclusion, Jon voice tenses with emotion as he sings “I get so down, but I won’t give up” – and the strength of the sentiment is physically tangible. It’s everything that it needed to be.
FAVORITE LINE: “We found a way out, the city takes everything it can, but outside the crowds, I can feel my lungs again…”
I admit it. I was one of the “Dark Horses doubters” and I was definitely not quiet in my criticism of this song when we began to hear early versions all those months ago. But with this studio recording, I’ve done a complete 180. Not only are the lyrics better than the earlier versions (notably in the chorus) but the sound is so much more pulsing, infectious and aggressive than I previously thought. In the context of the full album, it may not be the most unique song, but I believe it’s the best choice for a lead single. It’s got just enough bite to attract a new listener and just enough “classic Switchfoot rock” to appeal to a casual fan. It’s a FANTASTIC song to rock out to, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s also – in classic Switchfoot style – incredibly inspiring.
The guys have said that this song is inspired by the homeless youth of StandUp for Kids, an organization they’ve been supporting the past few years with their Bro-Am event. I had the unique experience and absolute honor of standing side stage at the Bro-am, surrounded by StandUp kids, watching the guys play this song live… rocking out with the very kids who inspired this anthem. It was an amazing experience and I’ve developed a new appreciation for this song ever since.
It’s pulse-pounding, a song of bravery and hope, layered with throbbing drums, crunchy guitars and contagious backing vocals. (Tim’s vocal delivery near the end of the tune, when he echoes the “We know we’ll find a way” is particularly stellar. You know can we just give him some sort of medal now? His backing vocals continue to be some of the best moments on this whole release.) I particularly love the “whispering” at the end, as Jon intones “Keep running with the dark horses, hope makes the blood change courses.” Haunting finish to a crazy rock song.
FAVORITE LINE: “We were so young, we had no fear, we were so young, we had just begun a song we knew, but had never sung, it burned like fire inside our lungs”
Souvenirs is probably one of the least-talked about songs on Switchfoot’s upcoming release, which is somewhat surprising… but I suppose the sweet simplicity of the song is easy to overlook. Hemmed on either side by the all-out rock tunes of “Dark Horses” and “Rise Above It”, “Souvenirs” is a pause, a slow intake of breath. It’s vulnerable, tender, enchanting. These songs are fantastic at painting mental pictures with sound, and “Souvenirs” brings to mind a gentler time, soft lights, sunsets.
Jon’s always been brilliant at writing love songs that look at relationships honestly, addressing the beauty and the pain equally, and this song is no exception. There’s obviously a story here, a melancholy memory, perhaps something deeply personal to Jon. “Here’s to your bright eyes, shining like fireflies, these are my souvenirs, the memory of a lifetime.” The “Here’s to…” repetition of the verses is poetic and wonderfully executed.
The bittersweet heartache is present in both in the vocals and the music. The tune starts off soft and unassuming, until the emotion begins to build and the music rises in a soaring crescendo and Jon belts out “Nothing lasts forever, nothing lasts, you and me together”. The music is slowed when Jon’s falsetto takes the spotlight, singing “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” The emotion is impossible to ignore. Then the music, like a wave on a shore, comes crashing in. Once again (you knew this was coming) Tim’s backing vocals anchor the “climax” of the song beautifully as he sings “Nothing lasts, nothing lasts forever” until everything breaks off into silence, and Jon sings quietly, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything… my souvenirs.”
RISE ABOVE IT
FAVORITE LINE: “Just because you’re running doesn’t mean that you’re scared, just because it’s law don’t mean that it’s fair, never let another tell your soul what to fear”
If you combined the aggressive feel of “The Sound” and the high-spirited energy of “Bullet Soul” I think you’d have this song. It’s got an infectious beat – especially in the almost punk-infused chorus – which is going to make this tune a lot of fun live. It feels like you need to be bopping around, pumping your fist, singing along at the top of your lungs. The song starts off with a bouncy guitar solo and a few breathy vocals before transitioning into a combative guitar and drum break. I guarantee this song will be featured on some video game in the near future. Chad’s drumming is really key to this song, providing the thrumming beat that really anchors this song and keeps it in place There’s some really awesome sounds and additions (most likely courtesy of Romey and Drew) that have been woven into this song (especially in the bridge) so make sure you listen for those.
Jon’s vocals are particularly raw on this tune as he growls “Rise above it, rise above it, I get so sick of it, it feels so counterfeit, I rise above it!” There’s a number of moments here, like Jon’s scattered “Yeahs!”, that make “Rise Above It” already feel like you’re at a live Switchfoot concert. The lyrics are classic Switchfoot – face adversity, be who you want to be, fight the system, rise above the circumstances, and there’s some clever wordplay. “Just because you’re present, doesn’t mean that you’re here.”
The song has a great feel, but to be honest, this song isn’t anything new from the guys. It’s nothing we haven’t heard them do before – lyrically or even too much musically. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s awesome to hear a song that feels like it could have fit easily onto “Hello Hurricane,” but some folks might wish that they had pushed it more.
FAVORITE LINE: “Where is God in the city life? Where is God in the city light? Where is God in the earthquake? Where is God in the genocide? Where are you in my broken heart? Everything seems to fall apart, everything feels rusted over, tell me that You’re there”
With this track, Switchfoot was in the unique position of having a song that everyone already knew and loved, years before the release of the album named after the song. From the very beginning, this song has been roundly considered to be one of the best things Jon has ever written. We’ve seen so many performances of this tune – intimate acoustic performances; performances where Jon was close to tears; even performance with other artists. When it came time to record, Switchfoot was in the interesting position of having to top and/or equal their past work – and expectations were high. According to the guys, this was not an easy track to record. “We just started hitting mute on all the different instruments,” Jon has been quoted as saying. Apparently the guys tried it a lot of different ways, but finally reverted back to the roots – a quiet guitar; an aching loneliness; vocals taking the lead.
If you had asked me how I liked the studio recording of the song a month ago, my reaction would of been lukewarm. But now? Now it’s becoming one of my favorite tracks. I suppose I was so used to the live versions that I couldn’t adapt to the studio version right away. It had to grow on me. The core of the song remains the same as the live versions, but there are differences. For example, Jon’s vocals sound so alone, so cut off from the world. When he sings the song live, it becomes a community, albeit intimate, experience, but on the record, he sounds utterly desolate. You kind of picture an empty room, with nothing, no one, but Jon, singing, playing the guitar. There’s also the absolutely BRILLIANT addition of Jon’s lines being echoed back to him in the background, bouncing off the walls, hollow and disoriented, pulsing eerily.
As I said earlier, this is one of the best songs Jon has written – it’s on par, or tops, his writing during the NiS era. The paradox of “You’ve got your babies, I’ve got my hearses” is breathtaking. The story and imagery are perfectly conveyed. The pain is real and the questions are brutally honest. This song is a cry of the heart… a cry that most people will find echoed within their own soul. “It’s just water and I am just soul, with a body of water and bones…”
WHERE I BELONG
FAVORITE LINE: “Stones on the wasteland, dark clouds on the plains again, we were born into the fight. But I’m not sentimental, this skin and bones is a rental, and no one makes it out alive…”
When I first got this CD over a month ago, I posted on Facebook, saying, words to the effect of, “From here on out, “Where I Belong” will always be considered one of Switchfoot’s BEST offerings” – and I stand by that today. The anticipation for this song in particular is at a fever pitch and rightfully so. I admit it, I didn’t get the big deal when we heard the guys soundchecking the tune months ago but you guys must have heard something that I didn’t then… but now? Now, I get it. This song is MAGNIFICENT.
There’s such a FEELING in this song… it’s hard to describe until you hear it but… it’s a feeling of hope… of triumph… of a beautiful rest after a long, long journey. This song sounds like the ending of the world, the ending of a life – the final destination has a last been reached. And it’s beautiful. I feel like this song almost goes hand in hand with Nothing Is Sound’s “The Blues”, because I feel like both songs tell the two sides of life. The journey (The Blues) and the conclusion (Where I Belong). This song is a bittersweet soaring symphony of life. Everything is ending and the pain is gone… something is changing, in the air, in the soul. (“Feeling like a refugee, like I don’t belong to me, the colors flash across the sky”) I keep getting the visual of a individual standing on the shore of a beautiful still sea (“Until the sea of glass we meet, at last complete and complete” from Restless comes to mind) staring across the water at a beautiful golden sunrise. Heaven? That’s what it feels like to me.
We have to talk about the music and vocals here as well. The main stand outs to me are Tim’s Arcade Fire-esque backing vocals. They’re absolutely stunning. There’s a reason why I feel that Tim’s backing vocals are one of the best parts of the whole release, and if you need to hear the main reason why, just listen to this song. Another high point is Drew’s incredible atmospheric guitar work. There’s so much space and movement in the music, so much emotion. Jon’s vocals are hopeful, brave, tender, delicate and strong. I absolutely love it when Jon yells out “But I still can hear the sound of my heart beating out, so let’s go boys PLAY IT OUT!” and all of the guys kick in their instruments in a beautiful melody of sound, echoed by Jon’s soft “Oooooo’s.”
I’m really struggling not to just full out gush here because this song is probably the closest to perfection that Switchfoot has ever come with a tune. I can’t say enough about it. Everything about it SOARS… it’s a song that you feel, deep inside you, so much so that you can practically feeling it echoing in your own soul. The conclusion is stunning, as all of the guys singing in a chorus of “gang vocals”, “I still believe we can live forever, you and I we begin forever now…” echoing the refrain from Afterlife.
The line has been crossed. Eternity has been reached. And in my opinion, no one has ever sang it about it so perfectly.
*The song “Fading West” was included on our pre-release CDs as a “bonus track” and was at one point listed on iTunes a bonus track for the digital deluxe edition. However, the song has since been removed from iTunes and we’re not sure when or how the song will be released. Regardless, we’re going to review it as it was part of our Vice Verses listening experience.
FAVORITE LINE: “Keep my mind over matter, cause I’ve seen my hopes shatter, they told me lies I thought were true, fading west with you…”
If “Setting Sun” and “Old Borego” had a child, that child would be “Fading West”. I’ve always been a huge fan of the “gang vocals” in “Old Borego”, so I’m stoked to see that the guys have revisited that here. This song feels like it needs to be played on a beach in California, with the sun going down, and everyone dancing on the sand. There’s lots of cool sounds and vocal noises running throughout the song, peppering the background for a distinctive, unique feel. Chad’s drumming is especially solid in this tune, anchoring the otherwise “bouncy” track.
Lyrically, the song seems to be about finally returning home after a long time away. Through the homesickness, the excitement of finally returning to “the left coast where I belong,” really gives this song a bright happy feel. As I’ve since learned that this song was featured in a movie (news on that coming later), the lyrical content makes a bit more since, as it’s a different type of song for Switchfoot – much like how Old Borego was essentially about San Diego, Fading West is a real California-loving song. “I’m heading back to the West Coast where I’m from, I’m heading back to the left coast where I belong, California’s calling me back home, I’m fading west with you” the guys sing in the chorus. Having been born and partially raised in California, I really appreciate the nostalgia of “Fading West”, though others might have a difficult time relating to the song… though I think almost everyone can find common ground with the excitement of finally returning home.
This is one of my favorite Switchfoot b-sides and I find it to be one of their strongest. This is going to become one of my favorite “driving down the highway” songs for sure!
When I think of this record, I envision several ideas in my head. On the retrospective side, I view it as a continuation of “Hello Hurricane.” The former record is a building up point; it’s the swimmer climbing up the ladder to the top of the diving board. “Hello Hurricane” was Switchfoot’s greeting to a new era.
“Vice Verses” is the jumping off point. It’s the plunge off the dive board into a whole new territory. In my view, “Hello Hurricane” was a re-establishment of who Switchfoot is, and “Vice Verses” is like a whole other side of the band that we’ve never seen. At the same time, the funny thing is it feels familiar.
“Vice Verses” is polarity, like the band has described it. There’s incandescence and iciness. There’s hopefulness and resignation. There’s determination and surrender.
These songs paint clear pictures in the mental psyche. Not since “Nothing Is Sound” has a Switchfoot record portrayed such a vivid visual mood and feeling. I feel very thankful to have heard these songs already, and can assure you all that you are in for quite the ride.
Picture: I see fire and a lot of red.
Perhaps it’s because the first live video we saw of this song had a lot of red in the stage lighting scheme. But I think the sound of the song has a lot to do with that as well. The serrated guitar hook at the beginning of this song lends a lot to this picture, and the urgency in Jon Foreman’s voice completes the scenario with earnest clarity.
“Afterlife” is the sound of an uprising from the ashes of a world burning to the ground. “I’ve tasted fire; I’m ready to come alive.” The motivation to change the world despite the pain and destitution that exists in it is something that is markedly absent in today’s day and age, but here is this song urging us all to rise above the feeling that we all get “a change to change, but [we] feel the same.”
“I’m ready now. I’m not waiting for the afterlife.”
Picture: This song is like a night out on the town before a big conflict or ordeal.
A lot of times, after the realization that one has a huge responsibility on his/her shoulders, he/she would go out and have a few drinks or do something dumb to relieve the pressure. It feels like this song is a journey in and of itself. The first verse is the beginning of the evening.
“Got your hands in your pockets, like you’re ready to pay… Got your eyes out of socket, like you’re a mile away…”
As time goes on, the person’s conscience kicks in:
“So you say you’re just a lost soul; I know you better than that
So you say you’re just lost in the wash; I know you better than that
So you say you’re just a face in city race, wasted and sick of it all”
“Speak your mind up, come on baby free yourself!…
“Don’t let nobody try and steal your soul… you’re the original!”
It’s got a very soulful feel all around, something that doesn’t translate completely wellto the live stage. Chad Butler’s Motown influence really shines through in the studio arrangement of this song, with his masterful usage of tambourines infused with punchy drum rhythms that invoke the good old 60s. Jon Foreman’s vocal delivery is audacious. The “c’mon now, c’mon now,’ c’mon now” breakdown comes straight out of the classic Motown artists’ playbook, as does the falsetto “wooo” right before the final coda. Foreman’s vocal acrobatics will cause longtime fans to fondly recall Switchfoot’s zany rendition of “Crazy In Love.”
It certainly is not the most original (pun wholeheartedly and enthusiastically intended) song Switchfoot has turned out to date (Poparazzi, anyone?), but it is a lot of fun. Those who enjoyed “Bullet Soul” will dig this tune.
“The War Inside”
Picture: Very similar to “Afterlife,” with more grit. A man on a hospital bed, in the throes of an intense seizure. A lot of sallow yellowness comes to mind during the droning verse, and a dull red tint for the chorus.
It’s the classic Switchfoot motif: the inner struggle.
“Fumbling his confidence…”
“Maybe I’m the one to blame.”
“I’ve lost all that I wanted to be.”
“I am my own affliction… I am my own disease.”
“The War Inside” is a continuation of this idea and, like “Mess of Me,” seems like a full on declaration of one’s inner faults.“Aint no killer like pride, no killer like I,” drawls Jon Foreman before spitting out that “I am the war inside… I am the battle line.”
The song is repetitive, but serves to hammer home the idea that before we can move forward, we must acknowledge “every fight comes from the fight within.” Most conflicts with others start from one person’s own personal struggle, whether it’s with pride, hate, anger, or anything else.
And as time wears on, these faults tend to continue to fester, grow, and materialize, a tendency that is reflected in the sonic delivery of this song. As the chorus wears on and on, the distortion continues to build, the lyrics starting fade into static until a final scream of “I am the war inSIDE!” It then fades into near oblivion, as if an atomic bomb has erupted and then, silence.
Picture: Rain pouring down a windowsill; some drops fall fast, and others remain at a standstill.
Switchfoot’s producer for this record, Neal Avron has said that there are a lot of great “breaths” in the music for this record. “Restless” is one of those. Up to this point, the record had been full throttle, full-speed-ahead. “Restless” brings things down a notch, tempering the listener’s mood with a simple, soothing guitar lick and a tranquil beat.
If “The War Inside” was the nuclear war, “Restless” is the healing rain upon a parched and pulverized land.
This track will remind listeners of “On Fire,” but is even more tender and lyrically potent than its predecessor. Jon Foreman’s writing on this song is highly poetic; in fact, it saw early life as a poem Jon wrote before it became an actual song.
It’s a slow-building, slow-burning process, beginning with quiet, introspective verses before the yearning chorus gives way to one the most beautiful bridges ever written by the band.
“I can hear you breathing! I can feel you leading! More than just a feeling! More than just a feeling! I can feel you reaching! Pushing through the ceiling… until the final healing… I’m looking for you.”
This song will grip anyone who is a fan of Jon Foreman’s lyrics. “Until the sea of glass we meet, our lives completed and complete… where tide and tear and pain subside, and laughter drinks ‘em dry, I’ll be waiting…”
It’s a song all about hope in what is not yet final. It’s an affirmation that though we run through our lives restless, searching, and longing, the journey will finally come to an end; we will have our final healing in the One who heals all…
This song speaks for itself, in many ways.
Picture: At the risk of sounding coy and ridiculous, a bright, summer day. at the beach.
“Blinding Light” really is a sunny, summery song. If “Restless” was the quiet evening in which the ocean sings a person to sleep, the “Blinding Light” is the morning after. It’s the “Toy Story” sky, with puffy clouds and a sun that shines so bright you can’t really even tell where it is.
A crunchy guitar lick opens the song, working in close concert with the rhythm section. By the way, Tim Foreman and Chad Butler really outdid themselves on this record. The bass lines are clearer than they ever have been, and really drive the record alongside the always-solid drums.
It’s hard to put this one into a worded description, aside from all that. The chorus is ecstatic, and the feel-good lyrical output on this song is infectious.
“I’m still looking for the blinding light, I’m still looking for the reason why, I’m still looking for the sun to shine, to take me higher and higher!”
It sounds like a pop radio hit; it would settle in nicely next summer alongside the OneRepublic or Goo Goo Dolls types of songs. Atlantic Records, I hope you’re listening.
“Selling the News”
Picture: Jon Foreman at a rock club with a sideways Padres baseball cap on… and maybe a chain hanging from his neck. Rapping.
Arguably the most buzzed-about song from “Vice Verses” is this crazy number. “Selling the News” has been described as the closest Jon will ever come to rapping. For all intensive purposes, let’s just say that he is.
Now I know a lot of people will think something along the lines of, “what business does a white boy from a San Diego alternative rock band have in rapping?” And, at first, this tune does sound a little odd to the ears that are used to Jon’s melodic traipsing.
But this is another lyrical jewel hidden in the Fresh Prince-esque raptasticness. Here is just a taste:
“America listens, the story is told. with an eye on the truth as the story is told, but the ratings ensure the story is sold, we’re selling the news…”
It’s a scathing commentary on the media’s lust for sensational stories, which sacrifice truth for money. But this isn’t simply a spoken-word, slam poetry style diatribe; Jon works very well with the rhythm section once more, delivering his spat on top of a pulsating bass beat that is occasionally accented by Kashmir-esque strings.
If that doesn’t win you over, perhaps the insanely catchy, Eminem/“Not Afraid”-style chorus will.
Picture: dimly lit room on a Saturday night. perhaps a glass of wine sitting on the table.
For those who have heard the acoustic, live performance of this song, the above picture will probably startle many. The thing is, this song could’ve easily been turned into a soaring, guitar-laden anthem like “Head Over Heels (In This Life),” but the band pushed into more unfamiliar territory.
What emerged is a tune that could quite possibly be one of the most sensual of Switchfoot’s songs. The band ditches the acoustic guitar for an airier electric guitar sound, and goes with a groovy beat that doesn’t overwhelm the tune but gracefully dances between Jon’s tender vocal delivery, the echo elements from Jerome Fontamillas, and of course, the guitars.
Lines sure to resonate with many a lost, young soul include the bridge: “I’m alwaysclose, but I’m never enough… I’m always in line, but I’m never in love… I get so down but I won’t give up…”
The whole idea of the song is an appraisal of life; do we truly live or do we simply grip the steering wheel, press the pedal, and drive into a murky wasteland of mental and spiritual mediocrity? The song is a quiet statement of motivation and a desire to live life to the fullest. “Thrive” is a close relative to “Meant to Live,” though it is a bit older and more reserved than the effervescent song from yesteryears past.
Picture: Though one can be tempted to picture a field full of knights mounted upon dark steeds breathing fire through their nostrils, this song has always conjured up a live show with thousands of people in my mind.
I’ve described this tune before as a lovechild of “Meant to Live” and “The Sound.” It has the plodding, methodical purpose of the former and the intense, crowd-rallying energy of the latter. Seeing as how those two songs are the most successful modern rock tracks of Switchfoot’s career, perhaps “Dark Horses” is destined for great things.
The band has indicated on more than one occasion that the tune is inspired by the StandUp Kids, who they have championed for the past few years at their Bro-Am event in San Diego. It is sure to provide a universal anthem to many others who have experienced trials but used them as a springboard to get to higher places.
Though I can think of more daring choices for the lead single from “Vice Verses,” this one is every bit as worthy of the distinction. It also has potential for widespread appeal, with just enough classic Switchfoot distortion to cater to the KROQ crowd, and enough melody to appease a wider audience. Think of it as Muse’s “Uprising,” with teeth and claws.
It is currently climbing the alternative radio charts, allowing for the tantalizing possibility of being in or around the Top 10 by the time “Vice Verses” releases. Talk about radio buzz!
Picture: Young, innocent lovers out in an open field at dusk quickly fading to night; the sky is so clear that the stars above can be seen quite vividly.
Whimsical, beautiful, breathtaking. This is perhaps the most aching love song penned by Switchfoot since “Yesterdays.” The tune speaks to a love that was bright and young, but was lost somewhere along the way over the passage of many years.
“I close my eyes and go back in time… I can see you smiling, you’re so alive. We were so young, we had no fear, we were so young, we had no idea that life was just happening.”
It makes me wonder what exactly Jon Foreman was singing about, and whether he was relaying a personal experience or trying to paint a story. He delivers it with an honesty that has always existed in his songs, but this one is a bit of a mystery.
The band makes it a point to emphasize the “Nothing lasts forever” line at the end of the song, which further draws support to the idea that perhaps Jon is singing about a past love that didn’t come to full fruition. Or perhaps the lyrics point to the loss of innocence, when the world was all about late nights, fire lights, and souvenirs.
We possibly will never know.
“Rise Above It”
Picture: Industrial power plants or other buildings of industry surrounded by an otherwise tropical-looking island.
I had a difficult time putting a picture to this song, so pardon the grabbing-at-thin-air description for this song. An almost aboriginal synth line intertwined with a bouncy guitar riff open the track, before an industrial, pulsating beat from Chat Butler propels the rest of the band into the track.
Jon Foreman howls on this song, with particular urgency on the bridge where he sings “We will rise like the tide, like dead men coming back to life!” with insatiable fervor.
Lyrically, the song does retread common themes that Switchfoot has covered, i.e. rising above circumstances, feeling hollow, etc. At this point in the record, the song does provide great energy but doesn’t necessarily tread new ground.
Picture: A lone man walking along the shore, gazing at his bare feet making slight indentations into the damp sand. Occasionally, he does look off into the distant horizon and what remains of the sunset, but only for a little while before returning to his feet.
Here is the song that serves as the foundation for this record. Not only is it the title track, but it brings to full focus the polarity of life that Switchfoot is trying to convey. It is as ecclesiastical as Jon Foreman is going to get, and this may as well be a song off one of his introspective solo projects.
I have maintained in the two years since this song was first performed that it remains one of Jon’s greatest lyrical achievements since the days of “Nothing Is Sound.” It is a yearning for meaning in a seemingly contradictory world where “you’ve got your babies, I’ve got my hearses.”
It’s a tune about tension. It’s singing that “there’s a meaning to it all,” while desolately asking, “where is God in the night sky?” It’s an inner struggle between an incipient hope not finalized and despair that is very much apparent in this world. “Vice Verses” may be about the good and the bad, but it is also an acknowledgement that bad may, for now, reign supreme.
“After all, it’s just water and I am just soul… with a body of water and bone… water and bone…”
Because that’s all we are. Soul trapped inside a physical body with physical limitations… It was a certain man who once sang “everything is meaningless, I want more than simple cash can buy.”
Somehow, there’s a meaning and a purpose. Perhaps we won’t find this purpose here on earth, but elsewhere…
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 1:14
“Where I Belong”
Picture: The lonesome man in “Vice Verses” walks along a fairly crowded sidewalk. He is no longer downcast, but has his eyes focused ahead. He even ventures a slight smile.
This is, hands down, my favorite song on this record. I knew this song was going to be special after hearing obscure snippets of live video footage from YouTube.
Despite its gross overuse in today’s vernacular, the word “epic” would be an appropriate attribute to ascribe to this masterpiece of a song. It begins with liquid guitar tones, before an opening salvo of claps, kick drums, and floor tom drums kicks the song into gear. After a couple bars, the traditional drum set arrangement comes in with a rock steady beat and an Arcade Fire-esque whoa-whoa accompaniment before Jon Foreman sings, “Feeling like a refugee.”
There is a sense of triumph in his voice, a stark contrast to the near-breaking-point lamentation of “Vice Verses.” It’s the sound of a man that is resigned, but is no longer shackled to this world; he has found peace.
“I take a deep breath and close my eyes… one last time…”
Perhaps this is a man at the end of his life, or a man who is closing the door on his past life and ready to move forward with a new perspective.
“Storms on the wasteland, dark clouds on the plains again, we were born into the fight… No i’m not sentimental, this skin and bones is a rental… and no one makes it out alive…”
Whatever the story may be, the assured confidence that “this body’s not my home, this world is not my own” is echoed in the triumphant last chorus.
“On that final day I die, I wanna hold my head up high.”
I can’t stop raving about this song, folks. It’s simply fantastic, with a melody that will move your soul and instrumentals that keep ascending to new heights (thanks in large part to Drew Shirley’s superb, atmospheric guitar work).
And, continuing a trend started with “Hello Hurricane,” Switchfoot link up their final song to their first song, closing with the coda, “I still believe we can live forever, you and I we begin forever now… ”
It is a fitting conclusion to yet another remarkable album from Switchfoot. I hope you enjoy this record as much as I have.
Picture: Windows of a station wagon car rolled down, folks unabashedly singing at the top of their lungs, and maybe a surfboard or two mounted to the top of the car.
The only reason this track was cut from the main album is that it doesn’t quite match the earnest vibe of “Vice Verses.” This song is feel-good all the way through, with sunny harmonies and lyrics that make anyone want to call California home.
I’ll bet Jon Foreman was feeling rather nostalgic when he wrote this song, with lyrics longingly singing that “I’m heading back to the west coast where I’m from… California’s calling me back home…”
The track begins with an almost eastern flair, possibly as a means of portraying the distance from home the band has traveled over the years. It sounds ultimately foreign, almost mystical, before launching into a full-on, California-sunshine-Beach-Boys-exuberant chorus. It sounds like it would fit right in with the “Monday Comes Around” types of the Switchfoot world, comfortably slotting in as one of the band’s strongest b-sides, ever.
As of now, we still don’t know whether this song will show up on any special editions (at the time of this writing, it’s not listed on any pre-orders), but I do highly recommend you get a copy of it. Amazing track.