Switchfoot - Vice Verses (Saraco)

Created on Thursday, 01 September 2011 Written by Bert Saraco

Switchfoot - Vice Verses as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothOn their eighth studio album (the second one recorded in their own studio), Switchfoot sounds like they're flexing their musical muscles and exploring the boundaries of their pop-rock foundation...

www.switchfoot.com

Credential Recordings / lowercase people / Atlantic Records

12 tracks / 52:32 minutes

The first track rocks hard and deliberately. The last track has an epic finality about it, a true sense of ending, yet it connects lyrically right back to the opener. A loop – a cycle – a connection bridging the somewhat at-odds ideas of independence and surrender."Everyday, a choice is made / everyday, I choose my fate," sings Switchfoot's Jon Foreman on "Afterlife," the lead-off track of the band's powerful new project, Vice Verses. Personal responsibility and a recognition of an overriding spiritual destiny are themes that run through much of the body of Switchfoot's work, so it's no surprise that on "Where I Belong," the singer counterbalances the earlier autonomous statement with a recognition of our relative helplessness in the greater scheme of things:

"But I'm not sentimental
this skin and bones is a rental
No one makes it out alive.
Until I die I'll sing these songs
on the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong."

Fate, choices, human responsibility and human frailty are all explored with rock and roll authority and more edge than ever before on Switchfoot's Vice Verses. This, the group's eighth studio album, is the second one recorded in their own studio, and the boys sound like they're flexing their musical muscles and exploring the boundaries of their pop-rock foundation. With a well sequenced mix of hard rockers, ballads, anthems, and the closest they've ever come to rap ("Selling the News"), Vice Verses is twelve well-crafted songs with no filler material. A strong and confidently-performed album with state of the art production by Neal Avron (Weezer, Linkin Park), Vice Verses features the signature vocals of Jon Foreman backed by Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keys/guitar) and Drew Shirley (guitar), all sounding tighter and more soulful than ever, with a distinctly edgier attack.

Of course, the title is a play on the term vice versa – which, if you want to get all dictionary about it, is an adverb meaning, 'in reverse order, or something that has been stated the other way around.' You choose to surrender ...but then that surrender requires daily choice-making. It's just that kind of spirit/flesh tension that drives this group and this project.

Interestingly, if you hear the title of this album you could just as easily hear versus – meaning 'against,' which would make the title mean 'against vice' – or you could hear verses – which would imply songs about vice! The word-play of the album's title is clever, but the song lyrics are often poetic, like in the title track:

"Let the pacific laugh
Be on my epitaph
with its rising and falling and after all
It's just water and I am just soul
with a body of water and bone, water and bone..."

but are occasionally straight-forward and emotionally obvious, like in "Thrive"

"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..."

Foreman has always dealt with human frailty (how many pop songwriters use words like 'entropy' in their lyrics?) and self-discovery, with a good dose of social responsibility thrown in for good measure.

Channeling their disdain for the manipulative news media through a down & dirty bass line and a Beck-like (mostly) spoken lyric, "Selling the News" reminds us that 'fact is fiction' and 'suspicion is the new religion.'

Feedback and a raucous fuzzed rhythm guitar riff open the anthemic "Dark Horses," with its crowd-inviting chorus and defiant, fist-pumping energy. The song ends with some very MuteMath-like synth sounds leading into the next track, "Souvenirs," which is probably the most conventional sounding track on the album.

In contrast, opting for a stripped-down sound on "Thrive" and "Vice Verses," rhythm guitar is dropped in favor of bass, picked acoustic guitar, minimal percussion and synth – the latter song sounding particularly intimate, adding what sounds like a bowed cello to Foreman's emotional up-front vocal and soft acoustic accompaniment.

Switchfoot is sounding like a band in its prime. Vice Verses is full of well-written songs with great hooks, real melodies, and memorable choruses. Angst never sounded so good. If buying music is one of your vices, get Vice Verses.

-Bert Saraco

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