To say that I was just a bit ecstatic when I received my copy of “Vice Verses”, Switchfoot’s 8th studio album, in the mail a few days before its release might be an understatement. I could not wait to dive into it! We fans have been hearing about this album since before 2009’s Grammy Award winning, “Hello Hurricane”. I had only heard three songs from “Vice Verses” before its release as I was one of those fans that would not let myself listen to the free stream. Though it was so tempting, I’m a sucker for the element of surprise. And I’m glad that I didn’t give in because nothing could beat sitting there listening to the whole album beginning to end in one listen; lyrics in hand. Let me tell you, I haven’t been this moved by a record in a long time.
On Tuesday, September 27th, the wait was finally over and “Vice Verses” hit the market! If “Hello Hurricane” was about walking through the storm then “Vice Verses” feels like a big picture perspective of all the highs and lows of the storm. Lead singer, Jon Foreman, talked a little bit about this theme recently in CCM Magazine, “Hurricane is singing into the storm and this is almost that apocalyptic view of what happens in the aftermath of it all. It’s delving deeper into the darkness and the light.”
You can feel that tension on the rocking first track, “Afterlife”. It’s a great opener as it starts in traditional Switchfoot fashion with crunchy guitars kicking it into high gear. Jon sings passionately in the chorus about not waiting till we get to heaven to really come alive, “And I wonder why would I wait till I die to come alive? I'm ready now I'm not waiting for the afterlife”. To me, “The Original” is the type of fun rock tune, with great guitar riffs and some pounding drums, that you blast in the car with the windows down. “The War Inside” instantly blew my mind! Seriously, I do not think I’ve ever heard Switchfoot sound like this before! The music and Jon’s vocal on this track has an edgy, rhythmic, almost electronic feel to it. This song, with its killer guitar riffs, speaks of the internal war we wage, “Ain't no killer like pride. No killer like I. No killer like what's inside./I am the war inside. I am the battle line.” The worshipful tune, “Restless” has got to be one of the best songs Jon’s ever written. The lyrics of longing and searching for our Savior are poetic, and the melody takes your breath away as Jon’s voice soars. It’s easy to close your eyes and get lost in worship with this tune. “Until the sea of glass we meet. At last completed and complete. Where tide and tear and pain subside. Laughter drinks them dry. I'll be waiting. Anticipating. All that I aim for. What I was made for./ I am restless, looking for you.” A masterpiece.
The biggest surprise on this album is no doubt the hip-hop (yes, hip-hop) infused track, “Selling The News”. This is definitely a side of Switchfoot we’ve never seen before! The guys once again enlisted the help of hip-hop producer, Mike Elizondo, and no where on the record do you hear his influence more than on this tune! Jon’s spoken word style singing really fits this brutally honest and outspoken song, about the corruption of the media, “I want to believe you. I want to believe But everything here's in between. The fact is fiction. Suspicion is the new religion.” I would really love to hear more songs like this from the guys! "Dark Horses" is the anthemic, guitar driven first single from the record. In this tune the guys rock it out for the homeless kids in San Diego they support through their annual Bro-Am surf competition. The soft and vulnerable “Thrive” in my opinion, gives us one of the best lines on the record, “No I'm not alright. I know that I'm not right. Feel like I travel but I never arrive. I wanna thrive not just survive.”
When title track, “Vice Verses” starts I feel like the world just stops, this song leaves me breathless. It’s a soft, delicate, acoustic guitar driven song with lyrics that are honest, questioning, and beautiful. “Where is God in the earthquake? Where is God in the genocide? Where are You in my broken heart? Everything seems to fall apart. Everything feels rusted over. Tell me that You're there.” The echo in the background adds a really lovely touch to this song.
The guys close out the album with a song that feels like a period to a beautifully told story, “Where I Belong”. This track instantly feels epic with pounding percussion, group hand claps and vocals. To me the lyrics speak of living with heaven in mind, knowing that this world is not our home. But while we’re here there is still work left to be done so let’s live it out now.“Until I die I'll sing these songs On the shores of Babylon. Still looking for a home. In a world where I belong.” I feel like this song is where we really see the theme of polarities come to life, as the first track had them “not waiting for the afterlife”, and this last track has them longing for it. I loved how they tied in the lyrics from both songs with the line, “I still believe we can live forever. You and I we begin forever now. Forever now.” It made the album feel complete and full circle.
Once again Switchfoot takes us on a journey through a story of highs and lows of the human experience. They make us see details that maybe we’d be apt to look over or maybe even things we do not want see. Feelings and fears we’re afraid to face and things we just don’t understand. They show us that while there is darkness, our story doesn’t have to end there, that there is hope, and that redemption can come in like a blinding light. I’m always on the edge of my seat to listen to the story these 5 guys from San Diego are telling with their songs and their lives; and hopefully “Vice Verses” is just one more of the many chapters still to be sung.