It has been a big past few months for alt-rock band Switchfoot – a sold-out tour, an EP, a band documentary and, as of today, their ninth studio album, "Fading West."
"West" is the latest step in Switchfoot's trend away from what is normally considered Christian, a trend they really started toward when they released 2009's excellent "Hello Hurricane."
But Switchfoot has always pushed genre boundaries over the course of their almost 20-year career in the rock industry. Their 2011 release, "Vice Verses," felt almost like a last album – its cohesiveness in storytelling and at times gritty musicality marked a new peak for the band.
Now two years after "Verses" comes "West" – an 11-track album of anthemic surfer rock songs tinged with the sunny lens of the San Diego beaches they so love to surf.
It is not an unenjoyable album, especially if you don't listen to the whole thing in one sitting. The first track "Love Alone Is Worth the Fight" is a great song; the melodies and lyrical sincerity are trademark of frontman Jon Foreman and are some of the things that make Switchfoot such a great group of musicians.
However, about five tracks in the melodies start to sound all too similar, and the constant stream of "woah"-ing in every song becomes tiring, if not grating. Many of these songs served as the soundtrack for the documentary "Fading West," and perhaps they fit better when seeing the band perform, holding campfire sing-alongs and surfing on the beaches in California.
In the cold of January in Tennessee, however, the album seems a little too warm and relaxed for the current rock-indie scene. "West" is no less sincere than Switchfoot's past releases, but it's not quite as emotionally gratifying as "Vice Verses."
The album does have its high points. "Say It Like You Mean It" comes across as a "Selling the News" (from Verses) counterpart, complete with a more a spoken-word type of singing and a guitar-heavy sound.
"The World You Want" is another quintessential Switchfoot track, as Foreman holds his listeners accountable with his lyrics. "Is this the world you want?" Foreman asks, seeming to look us right in the eyes as his distinct voice penetrates our ears.
But while "Verses" was reflective and subtle, "West" is a bit more confrontational at times, both musically and lyrically. The album is one pop-rock anthem featuring water and surf imagery after another; there is no break for quiet insights or melancholic guitar.
Instead, we get 11 tracks of summer surf with lyrics that become too repetitive – good for that car ride to a beach vacation but not so much what we tend to expect from the usually creative and intelligent Switchfoot.
"West" is light, happy and free, and it is certainly different from the bland "rock" they play on Christian radio. Give Switchfoot credit for writing what they know and experimenting with a new sound, but hey, a little darkness is good every now and then, too, Jon.