San Deigo-based rockers Switchfoot have been riding a wave of success since their 2001 breakthrough The Beautiful Letdown. Mainstream recognition has seemed inches away from the band's grasp but Switchfoot should be proud of their decade-long domination of the world of Christian music.
Lead singer Jon Foreman was close to tears as he explained in 2009 that the band had come close to collapse. But Hello Hurricane rose from the ashes and was widely praised by fans and music critics alike. 2011's Vice Verses dealt with everything from the afterlife to the media and was one of the band's strongest projects to date. Even the Ecclesiastes-inspired Nothing Is Sound released back in 2005 had fans raving.
All this to say, Switchfoot have yet to make a bad album. Their lyrics and music have stayed fresh. Most impressively they've re-invented themselves without alienating a fan base that typically ask the band for "more of the same, please?"
But Fading West is a bombshell. Switchfoot's ninth studio album doesn't sound much like Switchfoot. In places its over-produced with far too many bells and whistles employed in the studio. Are Switchfoot still a rock band? Fading West suggests they've moved quickly but firmly into post-rock territory. Gone are the classic guitar riffs that made songs like Meant To Live and Dark Horses so great.
Fading West is best understood as a soundtrack to the band's film of the same name. Switchfoot is a surfing term, so it's appropriate that the band's first film has a fair amount of surfing in it. This album is no doubt an appropriate soundtrack to the band's personal lives. But is it an album the band and their fans can be proud of?
Opener Love Alone Is Worth The Fight isn't nearly as upbeat and go-get 'em as the title suggests. The song lacks energy and soon feeds into the band's first single Who We Are. Pop-fuelled, the song says, "there's time enough to choose who we are" before a repetitive counting of one to five by Mr Foreman.
Switchfoot may be heading in a very different musical direction, but lyrically the band is making perfect sense. "I believe you're the fire that can burn me clean" points the listener heavenward during the latter half of BA55, while The World You Want draws on themes the band are used to delving into (see Dare You To Move).
Let It Out is worth an honourable mention for the sole reason that the opening 20 seconds are comparable with the bubble-gum pop of Katy Perry. The more upbeat and joyful feel is welcome, but it comes too late on the record to really rescue Fading West from its melancholy and lackadaisical feel.
Thankfully there are a few gems to be found. All Or Nothing At All has a beautiful soaring melody which is complemented by sensible production decisions. Final track Back To The Beginning Again may have nothing on Vice Versa's stunning closer Where We Belong, but it's a valiant effort that's full of life and energy.
With Fading West, the band have taken a risk and moved their music into a new direction. While their bravery should be applauded, their risky move – although well intentioned - hasn't quite paid off.
All in all, it's hard to have anything but mixed feelings about Fading West. Perhaps it was inevitable that after such a long run of phenomenal albums, Switchfoot would release a project which, as the title suggests, makes them fade just a little. It'll be a long wait, but at least we can take heart that Switchfoot still have the potential to power their way back to the top.