There is at least one item that both fans and critics ought to have found missing in Switchfootâ€™s last two studio records: a good ballad. Each offered up a few attempts—most notably â€œThe Bluesâ€ and â€œLet Your Love Be Strongâ€—but were ultimately unable to match Foremanâ€™s stronger ballads (â€œYou,â€ â€œInnocence Again,â€â€œTwenty-Fourâ€). Fall is the partial solution to that issue, although itâ€™s structured more as a good way to finally release some of Foremanâ€™s simpler songs than to do anything musically or thematically specific. In other words, Fall has nothing strictly to do with Fall.
The greater part of the EP is occupied by subtle variations of Foremanâ€™s pop songwriting that dabble very loosely in folk and Americana music and (thankfully) do not try to camp out in those styles. â€œLord Save Me From Myselfâ€could almost be folksy re-write of â€œEasier than Love,â€ thematically speaking, but the song is saved by a smooth guitar melody, gently suspended organ chords that hide in the wings, and generally no-nonsense (if not entirely original) lines (such as â€œMy mind is dull and faded from all these years of buying self/My eyes have seen the glory of this hollow modern shelfâ€). â€œThe Moon is a Magnet,â€ with its pairing of acoustic guitar and bass clarinet, creates but doesn’t capitalize on a velvety mood, a fact only reinforced by the songâ€™s not-quite-two-minute running time.
â€œThe Cure for Painâ€, however, is Foreman doing what heâ€™s always done well; when we are completely convinced of his honesty, the result is beautiful. â€œOh my Lord/To suffer like you do/It would be a lie to run away,â€ Foreman sings making all the rain and crying references true where they would otherwise be false. Iâ€™ve always had doubts about Foremanâ€™s ability to make music outside Switchfootâ€™s well-worn rock sound, but â€œSouthbound Trainâ€ does its best to all but dispel those fears. Although muddy in a few places, the song is a good mixture of Americana guitars, harmonica, the puffing noise of a train, with some handclaps and other sounds added for good cheer. The song is as good for its competent songwriting as Foremanâ€™s soundly arresting voice, which manages to make every familiar line delightful: â€œOver and over I hear the same refrain/Itâ€™s the rhythm of my heart/And my sleepy girlâ€™s breathing/Itâ€™s the rhythm of my southbound train.â€
On â€œEqually Skilled,â€ Foreman eschews confession for broader philosophizing (the song ruminates on the uses of _our_ hands before talking about Godâ€™s hands). Set against Foremanâ€™s cascading guitar, which lulls in and out of the songâ€™s structure for nearly five minutes, the track is a good representation of what Foreman has written thematically for a long time (with varying levels of success), from an artificially different perspective.
_Fall_ is not, despite its necessary departure from the Switchfoot canon, an attempt at innovation. Rather, it feels a belated taste of what we havenâ€™t been offered in the latest Switchfoot releases. After all, with three EPs to go, we probably shouldnâ€™t have expected Foreman to reveal his whole hand yet. If _Fall_ is any indicator, then by the end of this little project weâ€™ll have at least one album of really good material, and thatâ€™s at least a little more hopeful than it is disappointing.
Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.
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