Sound — 8
After playing by Columbia/Sony BMG Records' rules on their past few albums, the members of Switchfoot have rediscovered creative freedom. Frontman Jon Foreman candidly stated they wanted to start with a clean slate because the last couple of records felt kind of compromised. One can imagine that the record execs wanted an album chock full of radio hits that follow a pretty common format, and while Switchfoot's 7th studio album Hello Hurricane comes close to that ideal, it's obvious that the quintet wanted to get a bit more artsy in the process. There's an underlying pop-rock vibe that is the driving force behind the CD, but Switchfoot still shows off their experimental side in a big way.
Small indications of that experimentation are apparent in a track like Needle and Haystack Life, which immediately introduces a much richer guitar tone that we've heard from the band in the past. While that particular song still sounds like a perfect fit to play over the credits of any random hip TV show, Mess Of Me begins to take the album in a more intriguing direction. If you prefer the edgier, more straight-up rock side to Switchfoot, you'll love Mess Of Me. Starting off with a sonic, distortion-seeped guitar hook, it also features an interesting arrangement in which a cappella vocal lines often trade off with the rest of the instrumentation.
It's very likely that Foreman and his bandmates had a ball playing around with various effects/synth equipment. There's been a quote going around regarding how Hello Hurricane delves deeper into both the band's acoustic and electronic sides. As odd as it sounds, it's an accurate statement. Not every song includes this combo, of course, but the album is full of paradoxes to be sure. A song like Sing It Out is an aural free-for-all, starting out with some eerie Pink Floyd-like crying guitar effects. The bass line is the guiding force underneath Foreman's solemn vocal work (which is also eventually joined by a string section), and you'll even hear a subtle robotic-like vocal line mirroring his lyrics. There's also a lengthy, fairly ghostly instrumental outro that sounds to be primarily synth work.
While Mess Of Me and This Is The Sound are the big rock numbers, the mellower offerings take up the bulk of the album. Enough is just a little too predictable in comparison with the rest of the tracks, but it does score points for its sentimental factor. Your Love Is A Song begins by being a fully electric ballad, but the band quickly strips everything down to only an acoustic and vocals. There are a few transitions of that sort in not only This Is The Sound, but in songs scattered throughout the CD. The acoustic doesn't always take the spotlight on the ballads, however, and you'll notice that Switchfoot became fond of a keyboard effect that produces a chiming effect that you might hear in a nursery rhyme. It's the little details like those which indicate that Switchfoot is truly attempting to think outside of the box.
Lyrics — 7
There's a common theme that runs throughout Hello Hurricane, namely that of self reflection. Whether Foreman expresses, I still believe you can save me from me or the sickness is myselfI made a mess of me, the album probably had a cathartic effect for the singer/songwriter. The main issue is that there is a fair share of the normal/typical rhyming patterns (I've got my back against the wall; I can still hear the blue sky call), and that often becomes distracting. The candid themes relayed, however, allow you to often overlook any predictable rhymes that show up on the record.
Overall Impression — 8
Recalling Switchfoot's big hits from The Beautiful Letdown (Meant To Live and Dare You To Move), there does seem to be creative growth for the San Diego natives. While it's fascinating to hear what effects, drum tracks, sampling are chosen (and where they are placed), it's just as satisfying to hear a dirty riff show up in the middle of Hello Hurricane. Somehow with all of the experimentation, Switchfoot still manages to sound commercially acceptable. The band didn't necessarily play by a major label's rules this time around, it would still be no surprise if a number of Hello Hurricane's tracks find Billboard success.