New Way To Be Human


Sparrow / re:Think, 1999

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Ah, yes: the awkward sophomore album, in which our protagonists take a leap forward from their raw freshman outing, but haven’t quite found their footing with all the new tools and toys they’re trying to employ in their music. A familiar tale, told again with Switchfoot’s appealing yet flawed second album New Way To Be Human.

Sincerity is something this band has never lacked, and this album is rich with it. Singer/guitarist Jon Foreman’s philosophical, spiritually-minded songwriting has also improved from their 1997 debut The Legend Of Chin, and the sonic palette that he, his brother Tim (bass and background vocals), and Chad Butler (drums and percussion) are using to tell their stories is suddenly much broader, embracing loops and synth textures, horns and strings.

Three tracks form the heart of this album. First is the kickoff title track, a festival of sonic experimentation tucked into a tight, almost slick alt-rock single format. The hook and chorus are simply inescapable, and while the kitchen-sink approach to production feels a bit overcooked in places, the end result is an interesting, heady mix between straight-up heavy rock and experimental pop. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second key song is “Company Car,” the clear highlight of this album. The soul-sucking emptiness of materialism and economic competition is a theme Foreman would return to again and again in later compositions like “Lonely Nation” and “American Dream.” But those songs are expansive anthems; the poppier “Company Car” instead focuses in on the dynamics between two everyday, instantly recognizable characters, the unnamed narrator and his work-buddy Mike, competitors in a race up the ladder that’s dragging them both down: “As time rolls by my dreams have become / That which is attainable… I’ve become one with the ones / That I’ve never believed in... I’m the king of things I’ve always despised.” And, finally: “We’re the faceless combatants in the loneliest game.” It’s an anti-materialist rant you can sing along to.

The rest of the guts of this album is a bit of a mish-mash. Tunes like “Sooner Or Later” and “I Turn Everything Over” offer interesting flourishes on the production side, but don’t ignite otherwise. “Only Hope” is quite pretty, but feels less like a Switchfoot song than like the sort of more overt “worship” song that has ended up on Jon Foreman’s solo records in recent years. And then there’s “Something More (Augustine’s Confession),” a combination scriptural exegesis and pop song that’s surprisingly appealing, at that.

The third key moment arrives, ironically, after the album proper has ended. The little hidden track at the end is a doo-woppy studio snippet that gives you a clear sense of the playfulness that is one of Switchfoot’s most appealing qualities. Yes, they’re very serious much of the time, but they have a fun-loving side as well.

New Way To Be Human was a step forward for a band still finding its way, a move toward tighter songwriting, bigger themes, and the sort of restless sonic experimentation that continues to keep Switchfoot’s sound fresh today. It’s not a great album by any means, but it’s solid and sincere, and in “Company Car,” contains at least one excellent song.

Rating: B-

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© 2012 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sparrow / re:Think, and is used for informational purposes only.