Fantasy Records / Concord
Release Date: August 20th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- lost cause
- if i were you
- the bones of us
- i need you (to be wrong)
- the hard way
- backwards in time
Switchfoot’s music is revolutionary in both CCM and the mainstream. I’ve always been a fan of Jon Foreman and co. for years upon years, and it was only exemplified when I wrote about both Switchfoot and Jon Foreman in my blogs both in 2020 and 2021. The band has unveiled my eyes to the awe-inspiring wonder of music, regardless of genre, and how God can tell us these stories and bring to the fore, these issues and messages, even if the artist isn’t necessarily aware of it. While Jon and his band Switchfoot have been very firm and bold about their Christian faith, a lot of the band’s songs, and Jon’s solo material, can in fact be widely appreciated and respected by the wider mainstream community at large, thereby reminding us all that it is ok to produce music and art that doesn’t necessarily have an explicit Christian message, but nevertheless speaks about issues at hand that are far more weighty and necessary of discussion, than would otherwise have not been discussed, if Switchfoot (and Jon Foreman for that matter) went the CCM-only route. Nothing against CCM in general, far from it- there’s a time and place for that in the realms of music. Nevertheless, Switchfoot’s call to music and ministry is developing a space where people from all walks of life can congregate and listen to music from a faith-based angle, and be inspired by music that touches your soul, even if your own spiritual journey isn’t in line with what Switchfoot believe…yet.
There’s a time and place for an artist like Chris Tomlin, who is more of a worship artist, and then there’s a time and place for a band like Switchfoot, never shying away from their personal faith declarations, but still making songs that don’t alienate a group of people who don’t necessarily share the same faith as the band. And making music with such a broad appeal isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact, Jon is humble to know that people of faith, people of different faiths, and people of no faith, resonate with both Switchfoot and Jon’s solo work, and so their music and lyrics and messages and themes reflect this diversity. All the while having undertones of Christianity all the way through. Which is interesting and cool if I’m being honest. Switchfoot, and by extension, Jon Foreman’s solo career, have pushed the envelope of what Christian music should sound like, and have reminded us that music doesn’t have to be ‘Christian’ for God to move and use whatever the music is, to impact the people who hear it. Switchfoot’s rock anthems, and Jon Foreman’s folksy music, have delivered songs that can be loved and appreciated by people who love CCM, mainstream, or even both, as we appreciate the fact that there’s an artist out there (with others like Skillet and needtobreathe) who has unveiled music that is just good, and music that though has faith leanings, can still impact the wider community- whichever way the Lord leads and uses the music of both Switchfoot and Jon, is the way we as listeners of music have to be cool and be at peace with.
Switchfoot are impactful, influential and compelling, but even more so than that, Switchfoot’s music has been an anchor of hope and comfort for many people over the years, and it has been standout songs like ‘Meant to Live’, ‘Only Hope’, ‘Restless’, ‘Love Alone is Worth the Fight’ and ‘Dare You to Move’ (to name a few) that have been songs that have challenged us as a human race, to look deeper within ourselves, to see what parts of ourselves we need to change, parts we need to amplify, and other parts we need to reconcile with. Switchfoot’s career up to this point has been nothing less of stellar, and so for the band to unveil a new offering of music this past week, is intriguing and excitable, to say the least. Interrobang is what the album’s called (a unique one at the most, and a confusing one at least), and Jon and co. have given to us 11 songs of compelling, alternative fun. Musically more in line with that of either Hello Hurricane and Nothing is Sound, Switchfoot’s new album Interrobang is one where you would have to listen to again and again- there’s a lot there lyrically as we reflect upon songs from the band that would otherwise not have ‘fit’ on other rock albums- because the album is so, so different that it’s good. It’s not the grunge level of rock that is shown on Vice Verses or the ‘rock’ that seemingly is synonymous with surfing that is present in Fading West; but the rock that would harken back to the days of Leaning to Breathe, Hello Hurricane or Nothing is Sound…which is a very good thing indeed. The songs seem to flow quite nicely on this project, and while it can take a bit getting used to, listening to an album that is much more experimental than albums gone by from the band; Interrobang is a project that can be appreciated and respected for all it’s worth, even if people feel as though the album itself isn’t their favourite in the whole Switchfoot discography.
INTERROBANG: The Story Behind the Album
‘…human be:ings. what does it mean to be be:loved? what does it mean to be loved or to love someone else? is love a feeling? does it mean that you like the way they make you feel inside? or maybe you share similar interests? maybe you like the same band or the same food? or does it mean that you agree with them? maybe there’s more than one kind of love. the first love is built on commonality. this love is less of a choice, and more of a happy accident. the serendipitous byproduct of similarity and pheromones: two people who complement each other in this glorious symbiotic union. but when the first love is tested, things tend to fall apart. the honeymoon is over. and the true colors show. you strongly disagree. and you’re hurt. and you’re angry. and your anger is justified. “all you need is love! all you need is love!” but of course the beatles break up. and the marriage ends. and the world goes to war. entropy brings all things to a lower state of less order, and the bond that held us together is severed and broken. sigh…what a sad, predictable ending to such a promising start. the first love is over.
but what if there was another love. a second, higher love that is not a result, but a choice. a love that was more of an action than a feeling. this second love is the kind of love that you cannot fall into. it’s a love that doesn’t just happen to you, you have to fight for it. you have to choose it again and again. maybe a love like that can only happen after the disagreement. after the pain. after the anger and the resentment. maybe this kind of love begins when the differences feel bigger than the similarities. when you come face to face with a decision. and in that self-sacrificial moment you choose this other person over yourself. this second love is truly miraculous: to give instead of take? to disagree and still love someone? to feel pain and anger, frustration, and doubt, and still love someone? the first love feels very understandable: i love what you give me. the second love transcends this give and take: i love you in spite of what you give me.
“to err is human, to forgive divine.” mistakes can be happenstance, but forgiveness is always a choice. it’s a choice to recognize that the bonds that hold us together are more meaningful than the differences that tear us apart. the first love loves based on similarities. the second love loves the other in spite of the differences. our disagreement disallows the first love, and yet, that same disparity allows for the second love to be possible. the first love comes into being through conformity, united by homogeneity. the second, higher love is only possible when we disagree. when we choose each other in spite of our disagreement- “maybe every “other” is a “we”, maybe differences are easier to see than the family we are that’s underneath. maybe i need you like you need me”…’
It is in this quote above (that I’ve read 2 times over) that I can thoroughly appreciate Switchfoot all the more. Their music is not just catering to just one specific niche CCM group, and that’s ok. Welcomed even. Other bands have been doing this ‘inclusivity’ thing for a while, not just Switchfoot– Skillet and needtobreathe as well. And while the ambiguity of some of Switchfoot’s lyrics doesn’t necessarily do them many favours if they continue to want more traction with followers of their music who avidly love CCM, what Switchfoot nonetheless are doing is branching out their ministry, delivering songs that appeal to all walks of life, and capturing people into the fold, who may not have heard much about God, Jesus, church and the rest of it, through the ways of a song on alternative rock radio, and I firmly believe that a lot of the songs on Interrobang can service alternative rock radio in the upcoming weeks and months ahead, with these songs still delivering heartfelt messages of reflection and contemplation, worthy of discussion that shouldn’t just be limited to people who ascribed to the Christian faith (or in some unfortunate way, to Churchianity), which is what could happen if Interrobang was littered with more explicit CCM references like a fair amount of material in Switchfoot’s past. Nevertheless, Interrobang is an explosion of 1960s pop rock mixed with the trademark guitars that Switchfoot are known to do, and the result is something powerful, hopeful, confronting and healing, all at the same time. An album worthy to check out if you’re a fan of Switchfoot, of rock music, or of both; Jon and co. have created nothing short of a masterpiece. This album, and much of their discography, continually highlights the fact that this quintet is one that does its very best (and certainly succeeds) in uniting people of the Christian faith, people of different faiths, and people of no faith, through music that can be accessible and applicable to people no matter their journey through life.
One can disagree as much as they can about the direction that Interrobang is going, but what cannot be denied is the lyricism of Jon and his ability to bear his soul through song, like no other…and this is certainly true on Switchfoot’s latest. The band is not done yet, and Interrobang is the start of a new direction the band may be seeking to go, and maybe, just maybe, the Lord wants to use this new path the band is going on, for us to realise that each music genre, as weird, wacky, and wonderful as they all are, are all needed in life. Interrobang can reach someone that Fading West can’t, and Nothing Is Sound can touch someone’s life, in a way that The Beautiful Letdown doesn’t, at a certain moment. And just because songs on Interrobang don’t reach the emotional highs presented in previous songs like ‘Dare You to Move’, ‘Where I Belong’, ‘Love Alone is Worth the Fight’, ‘I Won’t Let You Go’, ‘This is Home’ or ‘Your Love is a Song’; doesn’t make the album any less emotive, poignant, or challenging. Interrobang is an experience through a Switchfoot album like no other- and together with Jon’s solo album Departures, makes a great, undiscovered, untapped, and exciting era that both Jon Foreman the solo artist, and Switchfoot the band, are embarking on. It’s a good time to listen to music, and what better way to traverse this uncertain period in world history, than to do it with albums like Departures and Interrobang by our side!
Starting off the album Interrobang with ‘beloved’, Switchfoot start to tap into a theme and idea that we as humans find so universal- to be loved, to love, to appreciate and feel connected to something…just to be beloved, as the song title suggests. While the song itself doesn’t utter the word ‘beloved’ in it at all, the sentiment is nevertheless what the song title suggests- the persona is yearning for something more than the temporary, as to be beloved means to let go of anything that seems to hold us back, and to run after truth, grace, compassion, and love unconditional…and we all know that money, power, status, memes, facebook, twitter, the news, the internet, worries, assumptions, even the latest trends and fads, aren’t going to satisfy this hunger inside of us. Switchfoot have thrown everything they have to deliver this cornerstone of a song, as ‘beloved’ in all its wonder, starts to shoot up there to become arguably one of my favourites on Interrobang, and an absolute anthem that can maybe even rival songs like ‘I Won’t Let You Go’, ‘Live it Well’ and ‘Joy Invincible’. ‘lost ‘cause’ follows along from ‘beloved’ and really speaks to the heart of what we can often feel when we’re in a pandemic like this- are we, as people, as a group in society that can often feel as if we’re shoved to the side, as a part of whichever we feel affiliated to…are the group that we associate with, are we lost causes? Can we come back from where we are now to be in a place that we once were before? To label someone a lost cause means that they are too far gone, unable to come back from the brink of destruction and turmoil. It’s a label that people don’t want to have, but someone has it, involuntarily. Switchfoot delves into this pondering question- are we really, truly ‘lost causes’, or are we just ‘lost’, with still a hope of coming back, and that we’re just lost because we can’t see the future potential of what we can be, and thus, are staying stationary and stagnant right where we are? Whatever the answer to this question is, Switchfoot have allowed this song to take place so that we can relate to either of these two scenarios placed forward in ‘lost ‘cause’. And it is this song that reminds me that labels like ‘lost’ are heavy, and to label someone like that so flippantly can really be the catalyst for someone to truly believe that they are too far gone from wherever they are, even when we know that that isn’t the case. It’s easy to say that someone is a lost cause and to tear something down, then it is to recognise something that can be improved upon. Or as Jon himself divulges, ‘…revolution is easier than repair. War is easier than reconstruction. Rust, dust, and decay are always at work, and everything burns. Entropy is always tearing at the seams of all of us. So, when we got to war, is this our logical, rational choice? Or in these dark moments are we simply acquiescing to destructive forces much larger than ourselves? Creating something beautiful is so much harder than tearing it down. It’s the same on a granular level: It’s easy to fall in love. It’s a lot harder to stay in love. Entering into relationship with another human soul is a surrender…’
Throughout the rest of the album, Switchfoot continue to offer up timely themes that are relevant to this time and place of 2021. ‘fluorescent’ speaks about a certain longing that we can all have to a light- and whether what we’re attracted to is God or something else, we are indeed attracted to something. We all yearn for this thing outside ourselves that we know we can live for, and ‘fluorescent’ is a reminder that the metaphor conjured in the track, that we are insects and flies, and what we’re chasing after (God, or _____ – fill in the blank) is the light, is a perfect analogy, and once we know our purpose and who and what we’re living for, we can’t help but chase after it like how an insect is drawn to the attractive fluorescence. ‘if i were you’ speaks about unity and trying to see things from someone else’s POV by pleading to this notion and fact, that if I were you and you were me, then maybe, empathy and perspective can be seen from the other. We won’t have to always disagree all the time, or at least respect the other’s POV, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. ‘the bones of us’ speaks of a relationship that is seemingly on the rocks, and the persona is trying to figure out if they want to fight for this person or not. It’s a song that processes emotions whilst the song is being sung, as when the song is first heard, there’s a sense of hesitancy and doubt in whether fighting for this person is going to occur, but by the end of it, there’s this sense of certainty and determination, as the persona declares that ‘…into the unknown, let’s follow this through, I’m fighting for us but most of all, for you, our heart’s like a flood that washes us new, I’m fighting for us but most of all, for you…’ ‘splinter’ is a rock-n-roll head-banger as Switchfoot that speaks of this war within ourselves- we ask ourselves (and God) if what we’re feeling are feelings that are valid, or if it’s only just ____, something that we can rationalise and justify as merely being ____. ‘splinter’ alludes to us oftentimes trivialising our feelings, as if they’re only just splinters and doing away with how we really feel, when in fact there’re much more ramifications to how we’re feeling than just assuming they’re metaphorical splinters. ‘i need you (to be wrong)’ delves into the instrumentation of folk/acoustic as Switchfoot employs light guitars and a looping percussion beat, as a theme as serious as this one plays out in our minds, as we ponder this question- is it in our human nature to always want someone to be wrong and another right? Why can’t we both be humble enough to say that we don’t have 100% of most things correct, and that there’s always room for improvement and room for growth, humility, and a way to press forward to learn much more than before? Because to assert that someone needs someone else to be wrong is an inference that this someone else can never be you…except it may often be. Switchfoot have challenged us all through this track; and have given us something to reflect and ponder as we navigate this ever-polarising society we live in, where there seems to be more and more extremes and never really much of a fair go at being somewhere in the middle, understanding that life isn’t always binary, that there’s much more nuance and grace that needs to be given, than we think.
‘the hard way’ speaks about learning from our mistakes in our lives, and understanding that sometimes the things we face are just opportunities for us to learn from our mistakes, and become better people than whence we were before, prior to whatever has happened in our lives. We get so wrapped up in worrying about why this thing has happened to us, but what if what we have experienced is just ‘the hard way’ of learning something that could’ve been learnt by…the easy way? Yes, there are things that can be learnt just like that, and then there’s things that most likely will be learnt through difficulty and trials. While we don’t necessarily want to wish calamity on anyone, oftentimes the hard way is the only way for us to understand what God is trying to tell us, maybe because our pride is in the way, or we don’t believe this thing will happen to us…until it does. ‘wolves’, one of the unfortunate ‘forgettable’ tracks on the album (because of the band’s EDM atmosphere, and the experimentation on this track that for me, didn’t feel that ‘Switchfoot’-y in the first place), is the song that’s the shortest-standing at 3:10. This track seems to speak about wanting to be awake from sleep and slumber, to acknowledge the wolves that can be present in our lives when the night seems to fall and we’re lulled into this false sense of security that sleep occurs at nighttime…except when we really know that the lurkiest things can happen when we’re not fully prepared for them to even happen in the first place. The album is then rounded out with ‘backwards in time’ and ‘electricity’- the former is a song of lament and longing, wanting to go back in time to fix a relationship, and pondering the question, that if we did have the opportunity to go back and fix mistakes, would we; while the latter is a Beatles-esque moment of realisation, that sometimes everything can get more complicated with the rise of technology, and often the simpler thing to do if you want to connect with someone, is to just switch off devices, and to focus wholeheartedly on the person. Our devices that are the very things that make life more convenient can also be the things that erode what we have of human interaction and connectedness, and this song ‘electricity’ is a reminder that the connections we can strive for and what will be more long-lasting are the ones face to face, rather than what we can pseudo-have behind a screen.
Introspective and reflective, emotive, and heartfelt, the songs on Interrobang (and a fair amount of Switchfoot’s past discography) are songs that act as remedies to our own circumstances, giving situations a voice when we could not even speak what we wanted to say. For singing a song is like sharing your innermost thoughts out loud, and songs like ‘beloved’, ‘if i were you’, ‘i need you (to be wrong)’ and ‘backwards in time’ are songs that are certain to be on repeat, at least for myself, in months and maybe even years to come. The music from Interrobang is something unique and different, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While this album isn’t necessarily my favourite (leave that to albums like Vice Verses, Hello Hurricane and The Beautiful Letdown), Switchfoot’s latest is still very solid, and a reminder that just because a band switches it up and delivers something different, doesn’t make the song any less emotive or compelling. An album that’s almost certain to receive a Dove Award Nomination for Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year in 2022 (alongside NEEDTOBREATHE’s Into the Mystery as well as the upcoming album from Skillet), Switchfoot’s new album is one of savour and listen to a few times- it has always been their lyricism that has attracted me to their music in the first place, and this album is no different. Well done Jon and co. for such an album that impacts and inspires not only older diehard Switchfoot fans, but maybe the younger generation too.
5 songs to listen to: the bones of us, the hard way, backwards in time, electricity, beloved
RIYL: for KING & COUNTRY, Coldplay, Colony House, John Mayer, Andrew Peterson, needtobreathe