I'm not going to waste much time writing introductions here: The eighth studio album from Switchfoot is, quite simply, a breathtaking collection of songs about life and death and faith and struggle and hope—sometimes all mashed up together at the same time. The first time I listened to it, I was left with the small hairs standing on my arms and tears welling in my eyes. Here's why.
From start to finish on Vice Verses' 12 songs, Switchfoot frontman and lyricist Jon Foreman invites listeners to ponder a mysterious and messy dichotomy: the jarring reality of a world full of brokenness juxtaposed with a faith that enables us to embrace that brokenness with dignity, purpose and joy.
"Afterlife" detonates the misconception that eternal life doesn't begin until we die: "I'm not waiting for the other side/ … Why would I wait until I die to come alive?/I'm ready now/I'm not waiting for the afterlife." Reflecting on years of beloved relationship (perhaps with a wife, perhaps a sibling), "Souvenirs" cherishes the memories of life lived together and wistfully smiles at how innocent things were in the beginning ("We were wide-eyed with everything/ … You were just a child and so was I/We were so young/We had no fear/ … We had no idea/ … I wouldn't change it for anything").
"The Original" reminds those who feel lost that their lives have unique dignity. Likewise, "Blinding Light" encourages us to reject culture's lies about where our worth comes from ("Hey, girl, be yourself now/Your skin's more than a pinup suit/Hey, girl, don't conform now/No one else got a soul like you"). Foreman also insists that hope can overcome fear, singing, "Deep down there's a hope inside/Brighter than the fears in my mind." "Dark Horses" and "Rise Above" inhabit similar territory as they praise perseverance and determination.
Sounding a bit like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, Foreman's lyrics on the title track reflect on the miracle of birth and the inevitability of death: "You got your babies, I got my hearses/Every blessing comes with a set of curses." The song acknowledges every person's shortcomings ("I got my vices"), followed by wordplay that hints at biblical truth enabling us to overcome them ("I got my vice verses).
The title of "The War Inside" lets us know exactly where humanity's deepest conflicts come from: our damaged, pride-inflated hearts ("Ain't no killer like pride/No killer like I/No killer like what's inside"). The song ends on an upbeat note, however, reminding listeners of the importance of every thought and the power of imagination to envision a better tomorrow ("Yeah, every thought or deed/Yeah, every tree or seed/The big things come from the little dreams/Every world is made by make believe").
"Restless" grasps at our hearts' instinctive yearning for our ultimate union with God in heaven: "I am restless, restless, restless/Looking for You/I am restless/I run like the ocean to find Your shore." Alluding to several verses about heaven in the Book of Revelation, Foreman adds, "Until the sea of glass we meet/At last completed and complete/Where tide and fear and pain subside/And laughter drinks them dry/I'll be waiting/Anticipating/All that I aim for/What I was made for."
"Where I Belong" also ponders the tension of living in a damaged, fragmented world even as we patiently await a better one. "Storms on the wasteland/Dark clouds on the plains again/We were born into the fight," Foreman begins. "But I'm not sentimental/This skin and bones is a rental/And no one makes it out alive." In the face of that reality, Switchfoot is determined to live with passion and purpose: "This body's not my own/This world is not my own/But I can still hear the sound/Of my heart beating out/So let's go, boys, play it loud/On the final day I die/I want to hold my head up high/I want to tell you that I tried/To live it like a song." Then this: "And when I reach the other side/I want to look you in the eye/And know that I've arrived/In a world where I belong."
"Thrive" voices the confession of a hollow man who looks in the mirror and is haunted by what he sees, someone who wants to do more than just survive. ("I try and hide it and not let it show/But deep down inside me I just don't know/Am I a man when I feel like a hoax?/The stranger in the mirror is wearing my clothes/No, I'm not alright/ … I want to thrive, not just survive").
"Selling the News" creatively mixes rap-like rhymes with a sung chorus as the band critiques our culture of consumerism in a world where truth doesn't matter as much as the bottom line. "America listens, the story is told," we hear. "With an eye on the truth as the story unfolds/But the ratings determine if the story was sold/We're selling the news." A bit later, this question: "Substance, oh substance—where have you been?/You've been replaced by the masters of spin." The song concludes with a prophetic observation: "Where nothing is sacred, there's nothing to lose/Where nothing is sacred, all is consumed."
Good writing—whether expressed in a book, a poem, a movie or a song—helps us see life with clarity. Jon Foreman's lyrical efforts here certainly illustrate that principle. Switchfoot's poetic and profound words on Vice Verses articulate the innermost yearnings of aching-but-hopeful pilgrims trekking together through a broken land … en route to the Promised Land.
And while the songs never mention God or Jesus by name, it's abundantly clear that it's a deep Christian faith that permeates and saturates everything here, woven into the very fabric of the band's musical reality.
The result is nothing short of exhilarating, musically and spiritually.