February 2003 feels like a long, long time ago. I was in a different decade of my life; in a different full-time job; had never edited musicOMH.com; and had never worried that I might get bombed by terrorists (or shot by police) on the London underground.
I bet that as they geared up for the release of their fourth album in February 2003, Californian surfers Switchfoot had no inkling that it would spend months near the top of the US charts, sell millions and launch them into the big time. Even if they did, they could never have guessed that said album would only be released in the UK two and a half years later…
Still, here we are and rarely has the clich� ‘better late than never’ been more apt than when applied to the release of The Beautiful Letdown on this green and pleasant land. For this is an album that demands to be heard, that cries quality from every one of its 11 tracks and that will wear out the repeat button on your CD player.
The Beautiful Letdown is that most endangered of species among modern albums – a multi-dimensional beast. Where wondrous opener Meant To Live rocks mightily, the subsequent This Is Your Life holds back with an electronic intro and flecks of acoustic guitar. Where More Than Fine and Redemption are luscious examples of jaunty, summery, uplifting pop, Ammunition, Gone and Adding To The Noise are aggressive, edgy yet equally playful. And where Dare You To Move and the title track are anthemic and majestic, On Fire and Twenty-Four are gentle, reflective and, quite simply, beautiful.
If the musical styles on offer are refreshingly diverse then they are united by two key elements, namely soaring, intensely memorable choruses and lyrics at odds with the nonsense that is spouted by too many so-called ‘artists’.
Instead, Switchfoot goad the listener and themselves into making more of every minute (“We were meant to live for so much more”; “This is your life, are you who want to be?”; “I dare you to move like today never happened”); make bold statements on the world (“Look what a mess we’ve made, we’ve got ourselves to blame”; “Do we know what life is outside of our convenient Lexus cages?”); and express their personal, spiritual perspective (“I’ve got my hands in redemption’s side, His scars are bigger than these doubts of mine”). And when they exhort: “If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song”,you’d be half-tempted to, if it wasn’t for the fact that the song in question is so resolutely fine.
Under normal circumstances, all that would be left to proffer would be that Switchfoot are unlikely to ever top the creative heights reached on The Beautiful Letdown. If you live on the west side of the Atlantic you only have another seven weeks to find out if this is true. There is one advantage to being on the east side, however – the ‘best albums of 2005’ list just got a whole lot easier to compile.