Art work for Native Tongue

Album Review: Switchfoot – Native Tongue

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A year or so ago Switchfoot announced a planned break and went on hiatus.

Naturally that meant hearing nothing until say at least 2020, right? After all, the band deserved some rest after every other year albums since 2009 and seemingly endless touring. It also raised concerns among the faithful that perhaps this was a slow burn to let fans know Switchfoot was over. Most bands don’t last 20 years.

But in August, mere weeks (ok, maybe a month) after my request for an interview was denied (sad face) Switchfoot announced a new album. Not intentions to start a new album, mind you, it was clear the band had been at work (they spoon fed fans a taste of their new work in the ensuing months) which culminated in today’s release of their 11th studio album Native Tongue.

Native Tongue sometimes sounds raw, occasionally aggressive but mostly mixes a mellifluous dance inside a 14 song record. Track wise, Native Tongue is the band’s longest album and feels much longer than the 52 minute running time (not sure yet if that’s a good or bad thing). The album carries a much gentler approach to their song writing than 2016’s Where the Light Shines Through yet with more harmony emanating from Drew Shirley’s guitar work than past records.

Switchfoot has never shied away from speaking on touchy subjects – done quite well without preaching – so don’t think they have moved on from that endeavor. Singer Jon Foreman said Switchfoot has learned a lot over their past 10 albums and Native Tongue is the band’s attempt to put that journey into words – an album that “celebrates all that we hold in common.” Can’t really argue with that:

  1. Let It Happen – A heavy song, takes a few listens but who knew Switchfoot could bust out a rocking guitar solo
  2. Native Tongue – Fantastic song. So catchy and love the slow down to finish out the final minute
  3. All I Need – Classic Switchfoot, fans will fully embrace
  4. Voices – It’s not rap, but kind of, with a much better jingle but still something to experiment maybe every once in a while
  5. Dig New Streams – So Beatles like, so un-Switchfoot like
  6. Joy Invincible – Great chorus. Let this one sink in for a while
  7. Prodigal Soul – A passionate song with Foreman really showing his range
  8. The Hardest Art – Love the melody; great vocals between Foreman and Kaela Sinclair
  9. Wonderful Feeling – Slow and steady but not a hit single
  10. Take My Fire – Loud and brash, back to harder edge rock; a solid anthem for anyone facing adversity
  11. The Strength to Let Go – Signature Switchfoot
  12. Oxygen – Not a favorite on the first spin but can already feel it settling in
  13. We’re Going to be alright – Their trip to Africa a few years ago probably helped shape this song
  14. You’re the One I Want – Sweet song, not a bad way to close out the album but it feels unfinished.

Switchfoot has come a long way since those early fresh out of college (or is it fresh while still in college) sounds that started their career 20 years ago. Switchfoot has always leaned more towards the spirit of Coldplay and U2 in past albums however they have managed to not only produce their own tone that defines them as a band but now expand their range which keeps them fresh, relevant and a legitimate player in rock music.

You can definitely hear the past two decades of Switchfoot on Native Tongue and just when you think the band sounds ready to rip, they roll back the rock chords, slow the pace then release the emotion. The influence of OneRepublic also shows as Brent Kutzle, bassist for that band helped produce. Switchfoot has always been an impassioned group often speaking of love, embracing the now and encouraging the listener thus inciting such an impassioned fan base. Switchfoot probably fills the various dark holes of life with a bit of light for many listeners who without the uplifting nature of the lyrics would remain somewhat in the shadows.

Though Switchfoot works best when embracing their rock side (“Stars,” “Oh! Gravity.,” “Dark Horses”) they also know how to tug at your heartstrings very effectively and perhaps better than most (“I Won’t Let You Go,” “Your Love Is a Sound,” “Thrive”). And while past albums have felt equal parts driving melodies countered with their softer withdrawals Native Tongue leans heavily on those compassionate tinged inflections.

In many respects, Native Tongue feels like a greater change of direction than their last album. Switchfoot has held on to its core but found a different avenue to drive down. Don’t worry Switchfoot is alive and well but had their break continued through 2019 and they returned with this album certainly the shock value of their return could have been more pronounced.

Wholly, Native Tongue doesn’t have the quick melodic permeation of songs prevalent on prior albums, instead the record invites you to listen. Then listen again. Perhaps, Switchfoot’s entire point behind making the album.

Grade: B

Switchfoot – Native Tongue track list

  1. Let It Happen
  2. Native Tongue
  3. All I Need
  4. Voices
  5. Dig New Streams
  6. Joy Invincible
  7. Prodigal Soul
  8. The Hardest Art
  9. Wonderful Feeling
  10. Take My Fire
  11. The Strength to Let Go
  12. Oxygen
  13. We’re Going to be alright
  14. You’re the One I Want

7 comments

  1. I’m finding that this album has grown from a solid B to a solid A over a few listens. There are some great tunes that immediately grabbed me, to be sure, but some of the songs that initially just seemed “okay” to me are now among my favorites. Great review, though!

    1. Thanks for the response! I had a feeling that was where the album was going. I’ve put it aside for a few days. Looking forward to a fresh listen.

  2. Like you said earlier Native Tongue is the band’s attempt to put that journey into words, maybe the song You’re The One I Want feels unfinished because like the song the band feels unfinished and they want to do more?? Just a theory.

  3. The album Vessel by twenty one pilots was a key for me to understand the end of this album – You’re the One I Want has distinct echoes of Truce, the song that closes out Vessel. After listening to Vessel all the way through without interruption, the piano is an odd way to close out such an energetic album, but it is perfect in context and emotional impact. Really think Switchfoot did something similar here. I thought the end to this album was fantastic and appropriate.

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