It’s no real secret that Switchfoot are something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Christian rock isn’t exactly the easiest genre to recommend but the band’s accomplished blend of soul searching lyrics and anthemic choruses has always sat well with me – if nothing else I’ve never really understood why a band this polished and assured hasn’t been met with greater mainstream success. Fading West probably won’t change that but the band’s 9th album is their most sonically fresh in a while, even if lyrically things are a little too familiar.
Fading West, Switchfoot’s 9th album to date, finds the San Diego 5 piece at their most carefree and relaxed. After 2012’s guitar-focused Vice Verses, Fading West is a welcome reprieve full of expansive, feel-good hooks and ‘woah woah’ backing vocals. In terms of sound it’s probably closet to 2009’s rather excellent Hello Hurricane, albeit with far less emotional intensity. While certain tracks like the soaring opener Love Alone Is Worth The Fight could have easily been lifted from that album, most of the songs here are softer and more, well, fun.
There are a few rockers and a few ballads but most of the tracks broadly fall into that big, crisp sounding pop/rock category bands like Coldplay and One Republic are peddling at the moment. The prominence of electronic elements here is unusual for Switchfoot but it’s incorporated seamlessly into their existing sound. Crucially, the band’s knack for a melody means they seldom fall into the big pit of beige and even if they do skirt close to the edge sometimes, their goofy earnestness usually wins through. Still, if Paradise and Counting Stars can be huge radio hits, there’s no good reason for songs like the wonderfully punchy Let It Out not to follow suit. There are even a few nice sonic tricks wheeled out here and there to keep things feeling fresh, from the glitchy, skittering riff of Say It Like You Mean It to the fluid baseline that leads the appropriately titled BA55. Nothing too drastic, sure, but everything here is polished and professional to a fault.
The only real disappointment on Fading West is the lyrics. Lead songwriter Jon Foreman has always been pretty good at asking big questions without sounding preachy but here things are just a little too broad and unfocussed to strike a chord, most notably on The World You Want which rehashes several other Switchfoot songs (This Is Your Life and Meant To Live to name but two) and quickly slips into cliché as a result.
In many ways, Fading West is the ultimate 7 out of 10 album. It’s a solid album by a solid band, not their best and not their worst but easy enough to recommend to both fans and newcomers alike. But we don’t do ‘out of 10’ ratings here, we do stars and so Fading West get 3 of them, if only because I know they can do a bit better.