Reviewed by Ewan Jones
'Vice Verses' plays like an album Switchfoot actually wanted to write and play. Having famously cherry-picked 'Hello Hurricane''s track listing from over 80 songs, this, their eighth studio album, sees the band focus on a much more limited selection, finding in discipline a freedom to be inventive. 'Vice Verses' was on the cards before 'Hurricane' had even hit the shelves although little of the band's original track listing made it through to the final recording. Thematically the album treads similar paths to previous albums - nostalgia and loss ("Souvenirs"), making the most of this life ("Dark Horses", "Rise Above It"), vacuous media hypocrisy ("Selling The News") and the title track which examines the serious questions that arise out of life, death and suffering. 'Vice Verses' also conveys that our reality is more than what we see in front of us: "A warm body doesn't mean I'm alive," Foreman sings on "Thrive"; "Just because you're present/Doesn't mean that you're here," he claims on "Rise Above It" while the album's seven minute closer, "Where I Belong", sees Foreman expressing his hope for an eternal reality: "This body's not my own/This world is not my own/Still looking for a home/In a world where I belong". Switchfoot's diverse approach to rock music means that there are some pleasant surprises amongst the obligatory acoustic introspection and foot-stomping rock - highlights are first single "Dark Horses" and anthemic "The War Inside" - the latter kicking off with an electronic vibe, its flowing fight-lyrics and dark grooves combining to put a strong emphasis on rhythm - Tim's bass and Chad's drums kick in at the end of the first verse and gave me the same excited feeling I got the first time "Chem 6A"'s riff stopped me in my tracks. The songs on offer here are naturally a world away from those early albums in terms of style, production quality and songwriting maturity, but 'Vice Verses' has the innovative Switchfoot spark that's been missing off the last couple of albums. "Selling The News" is a distant cousin to Larry Norman's "Readers Digest" and Foreman can't hide the sarcasm in his spoken delivery which culminates in the accusatory chorus; "Fact is fiction/Suspicion is the new religion". Foreman is one of the most dexterous and exciting songwriters in the whole alternative rock scene. He has the ability to express truth without pretension, deep yearnings unencumbered by cliche and crucially he can make you feel like he's written a song just for you, framing his quests and questions with declarations of hope and expectancy. 'Vice Verses' is a rock album of the highest calibre.
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Vice Verses is the work of a band that is so restless, they devote an entire song (Restless) to the condition. It’s that very uneasiness – an unwillingness to choose the treadmill over the triathlon – that fuels the band’s forays into new musical territory and Jon Foreman’s unflinchingly honest lyrics. You can hear the tension build along with the first chords of album opener Afterlife, leading into a bold statement of intent: “I’ve tasted fire I’m ready to come alive / I can’t just shut it up and fake that I’m alright / I’m ready now / I’m not waiting for the afterlife….I believe we start forever now.”
As the rousing lead single Dark Horses makes abundantly clear, we were designed to transcend, to stand up against the darkness.