IF YOU harbored any great hopes or fears that Switchfoot's decision to shift from Columbia Records to their own label signaled a drastic change of approach, you’ll be alternately dismayed or relieved before you get through a single track on Hello Hurricane. Apart from a few expected nuances here and there, Christian music’s most famous crossover band still sounds exactly like they always have and exactly like we have always loved them.
Refusing to give up decade-old alt-rock with a grunge edge Switchfoot’s seventh studio record is notably brighter than 2005's Nothing Is Sound, but much less annoying than the subsequent Oh! Gravity, which, despite receiving significant critical acclaim, risked putting Switchfoot in the category of bleeding-heart-bleeding-ear teen punk. Whether or not scaling back on mainstream overtones had anything to do with the amicable separation from Columbia remains to be seen, but the contents of Hello Hurricane are a good indication that the band enjoyed reclaiming the entirety of their creative freedom.
Not only does the album itself suggest that Switchfoot is basking in the nostalgic liberation of doing it all themselves, but the announcement that the delay since Oh! Gravity was due to a focus on four albums' worth of music says that the boys are loving the ability to give their fans pretty much anything they want. Perhaps more than any of Switchfoot's previous releases, Hurricane demonstrates a need to keep stepping just outside the cookie cutters that could otherwise box them in with lesser imitators.
While tracks like "Your Love is a Song," and "Enough" are bloaty, sentimental love songs and harder tracks like "The Sound (John M Perkins Blues)" and "Bullet Soul" deliver the classic Switchfoot anthemic edge, there are moments that suggest that the band isn't afraid to experiment. In particular, "Sing It Out" opens with a subtle electronic foundation topped with a lot of vocal and lead reverb, dancing between surrealism and straightforward rock (it eventually settles on the latter). Then there's "Always," with its distrubing resemblence to early Coldplay which, under normal circumstances would be objectionable, yet tiptoes just delicately enough on the border of reminiscience that the connection isn’t direct or intrusive. (That, and I can't recall Coldplay ever including the word "hallelujah" in their lyrics.)
Despite these inconspicuous shifts in sound, radio Switchfoot fans likely won't notice any difference. The album single, "Mess of Me," though definitely more coarse than anything to come off of Oh! Gravity, finds the balance between Switchfoot’s grunge-punk roots and modern rock n' roll. (I imagine this to be what Papa Roach would sound like if they weren't so pissed off all of the time.) And in typical Switchfoot fashion, the tune is so catchy that we find ourselves singing along before we even realize what it is that we're singing.
As they deftly charge down a path that runs alongside the river of Christian pop culture, Switchfoot continues to be a voice for neither the church nor the mainstream. They’re consistently attractive to anyone who is sifting pop culture for lyrics that are comfortable dealing in sentiment but self-aware enough to swerve away from major cliches. Like its title suggests, Hello Hurricane smiles through the everyday bluster and remains standing as another monument to what the world likes so much about these guys.
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