Commercially, it could be argued that Switchfoot peaked in 2003. That was when its fourth effort The Beautiful Letdown went double-platinum and Top 20 singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move" became rock radio staples. The two albums that followed (2005’s Nothing Is Sound and 2006’s Oh! Gravity) garnered continued critical praise but did not sell as well.
Now the San Diego-based alt-rock quintet returns with Hello Hurricane, a 12-song offering stocked with the kind of angsty-but-hopeful anthems that propelled the band to mega-stardom six years ago. It proves that peaking financially and peaking artistically are two very different things. Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and U2 are obvious benchmarks. And the angry, glaring kerrang of guitars provides a stark backdrop for frontman Jon Foreman’s keen philosophical and spiritual musings.
Lead single "Mess of Me" offers a thesis statement of sorts for the album as a whole: "I’ve made a mess of me/I wanna get back the rest of me/ … I wanna spend the rest of my life alive." No drug, he says, can deal with the aches in our hearts caused by us being our own "affliction" and "disease." So forgiveness is the only answer: "It’s hard to free the ones you love/When you can’t forgive yourself."
Thankfully, it seems pretty evident that the band is relying upon something, or, more accurately, someone other than themselves to deal with their weaknesses. "Your Love Is a Song" doesn’t mention God specifically, but I’m inclined to think it’s His love Foreman references when he sings, "Your love is a symphony/All around me/Running through me/Your love is a melody." Prayerful dependence upon God is more obvious on "Free" ("Come set me free/Down on my knees/I still believe/You can save me from me"). Lyrics in that track also invoke Romans 7:15 ("I try to live the light of day/Why do I do what I hate?"). Similarly, "Always" could be interpreted as just a poignant love song ("I am always yours"), but it also serves as a treatise on God’s sustaining love as we languish in our darkest places ("This is the hole where most of your soul comes ripping out/From the places you’ve been torn/ … But I am always yours.") The song concludes, "Hallelujah, every breath is a second chance."
The storms of life can’t overcome love on "Hello Hurricane," and love has the final word again on "The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues)" and "Bullet Soul."
Speaking of love, the ups and downs of marital life seem to be the subject on "Needle and Haystack Life" and "Enough to Let Me Go." And the album concludes with a trio of tracks ("Yet," "Sing It Out" and "Red Eyes") that deal in different ways with the fragile, tenuous nature of life. In each song, though, hope triumphs over the gray. ("You haven’t lost me yet," Foreman proclaims on "Yet," "I’ll sing until my heart caves in").
As the band’s chief songwriter, Jon Foreman has obviously grappled with personal brokenness and disillusionment. Here, though, his self-awareness never degenerates into self-absorption. Instead, on song after song, he sings about reaching the end of yourself—and then taking the next step forward in faith.
Thus, Switchfoot’s vulnerable, honest songs traverse the geography of personal struggle while never losing sight of the fact that hope and love—both of which are supplied by God—are the only real antidotes to despair.