Now we have a new standard to measure Switchfoot by...
Label: Atlantic / EMI CMG
Time: 12 tracks / 53 mins
There are two things that several of us said about Switchfoot’s previous release Hello Hurricane. One was the phrase, “if it ain’t broke....” and the other was that it was the nearest they have come to matching their breakthrough masterstroke The Beautiful Letdown.
About Vice Verses, again we have to say, “If it ain’t broke...” I am reluctant to accuse the band of being formulaic, but this really is Beautiful Letdown all over again: there are a couple of belters, including one about making the most of life ("Afterlife"); the odd fragile one (“Thrive”); one so-so punky piece that slightly intrudes (“The Original”); and a steady flow of singable songs that blow effortlessly past the ear, all creating a magnificent mood, helped on by some subtle, spacey programming. The whole thing flows fluidly, just as “Letdown” did.
If this one is better than Hurricane – and it most certainly is – then it looks like we finally have a new standard to mark Switchfoot albums by.
It kicks off with “Afterlife,” a perfectly formed, strutting little thing that screams, “Play me loud!” In it Foreman refuses to waste the precious time we have on Earth, asking pointedly, “Why would I wait till I die to come alive?” He liberally splashes his trademark thoughtful observations across the disc.
Being a U2 clone is no longer a shortcut to success, but the two sound-alikes here really are superb tracks. “Restless” is another perfectly shaped piece that could almost pass as a Joshua Tree outtake, while “Dark Horses” has more of an anthemic urge. Pastiches or not, the world would be poorer without them.
There are incremental steps forward in the sound. “Selling the News” is the first time that they have played with spoken word for most of a song and it works well, with a little hip-hop lift to the rhythm (as there is in one or two other places).
A decade on, the sound is a little crisper and some of the enthusiasm has become a little world weary, tinged with experience.
The band has commented about this release being about the polarity of life. In another interview, Jon Foreman spoke about coming out of a tough personal patch, and listening to this disc in that light bears it out. Sure, he has always sung of the struggles, but here they ring truer and when he songs, “I want to thrive, not just to survive” it seems like the latter is what he really has been doing and now the cry to move forward is more heartfelt, rather than just an idealistic plea to live well.
There is a lot here to get excited about; I even prefer it to The Best Yet. It looks like the next best-of should beat the first.