Reviewed by Helen Whitall
To be released on 18th January 2019, 'Native Tongue' sees the San Diego surfers return from a short hiatus with their 11th full album. Put aside any preconceived ideas about what Switchfoot are about, or you will miss the point. They've been around long enough they don't have anything to prove. Continuing what they started on 'Where The Light Shines Through', this is a playful, creative, and highly accomplished exploration of sound. Every Switchfoot album is distinct in style, but this one promised a sonically disparate collection of songs and it certainly delivers! Influences on show span Queen, The Beatles, Coldplay and the White Stripes, the music of the Pacific islands, Celtic fringes and southern Africa, gospel, hair metal, hip-hop, EDM and synth-rock, alongside styles they've already made fully their own, and full-on guitar solos nestle amongst layers of brass and strings. So let's go: The massive "Let It Happen" erupts euphorically over the soul in dramatic style, followed by the infectious, drum-driven title track with its message of remembering our origins in childlike love and acceptance echoed by the tribal feel of the sound. The danceable beat gives way unexpectedly to a quietly moody outro, evoking the best of their b-side work. This is followed by the beautiful, soulful "All I Need", with its big-production sound, and then edgy, bass-driven hip-hop of "Voices", exploring anxiety. "Dig New Streams" sounds uncannily like it escaped from the Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper's. . .' and somehow found its way to Switchfoot, quirky, trippy and packed with awesome riffs and solos. "Joy Invincible" is a huge sonic soundscape that would fill a club, Jon Foreman's vocals gorgeously soft, and this leads nicely into the raw and passionate "Prodigal Soul". Next stop on this musical adventure is the full-on EDM of "The Hardest Art", blending elements of '80s electronica with bang-up-to-date synth rock. Guest vocalist Kaela Sinclair takes the second verse, and for just a moment as their voices join together in an acoustic interlude there are echoes of Jon's solo work. The laid-back, piano dominated "Wonderful Feeling" gives way to the heavy, head-banging riff of "Take My Fire", Jon's voice now classic-rock rugged, before veering off again into the melodic CCM of "The Strength To Let Go", all jangling guitars and lush harmonies. "Oxygen" is a vulnerable soft rock ballad, and this is followed by "We're Gonna Be Alright", which blends global musical influences and an immensely fun bass riff. Appropriately for a piece about reassurance, the vocals have the intimate quality of a father whispering into the ear of a child. You can't help but feel it. "You're The One I Want" closes this eclectic album with a simple piano and cello love song; it has the feel of some of the very earliest Switchfoot, now grown up. The production throughout is stunning, the sound layered and full, every element perfectly placed, and it will sound perfect on vinyl. Lyrically there's a lot of the strongly-rhyming, hip-hop-influenced song-writing that has characterised much of Jon Foreman's more recent work. It's very much a Christian album, the story of a "prodigal soul" finding home in the love of God. It's also their least angsty album to date, lacking their usual lyrical bite, which in such troubled times I find a bit hard to swallow. But they are home. It's very much a celebration of that, and all about the music. The range of styles is going to divide opinion, and it's certainly not going to appeal to everyone, but there's little doubt it's a musical masterpiece.
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