Music

by
22 February 2007

by Jude Adam

Pulling the crowds: Switchfoot, who played to more than 3000 at Shepherd’s Bush, in London, recently COLUMBIA

Pulling the crowds: Switchfoot, who played to more than 3000 at Shepherd’s Bush, in London, recently COLUMBIA

I FIRST came across Switchfoot on a compilation album in 1997. Among what was a fairly dull selection, there was a quirky, catchy pop song. “I don’t want to read the book, I’ll watch the movie” went the words, sticking in my head for weeks and driving my flatmates crazy.

Then, Switchfoot were a three-piece band of teenage semi-pro surfers from San Diego, California. The brothers Jon (songwriter and lead vocalist) and Tim (bass) Foreman, with their long-term friend Chad Butler (drums), were studying by day and playing gigs and competing in surfing competitions at the weekends. It was only when their second album was released, in 1999, that they became full-time musicians.

Now Switchfoot have expanded to become a five-piece band. They have got themselves a major record-label deal; have had songs featured on film soundtracks such as Spiderman II, and sold — wait for it — more than three million records. Yes, that’s three million.

They released three albums in the Christian marketplace and then, on the strength of their fourth, The Beautiful Letdown, were signed to a mainstream deal by Columbia Records in 2004. Re-released into the mainstream, the album was a word-of-mouth hit, selling 2.6 million copies.

When they released Nothing Is Sound in 2005, they had created such a buzz that the album went straight in at number three on the Billboard album chart in the United States.

This is, in some ways, more of a feat than it seems. Even with two mainstream hit albums under their belt, a Christian band are still viewed with suspicion. Reviews for their new album Oh! Gravity couldn’t, therefore, help but be a little disparaging.

Spin Magazine (the closest thing to the NME in the US) gives them what they think is a decent review, but begins with the following sentence: “When Switchfoot singer/guitarist Jon Foreman cries: ‘I don’t know that I ever felt so alive’ on the band’s sixth album, he’s probably describing a new peak in his relationship with Jesus, since that’s usually what Christian bands like Switchfoot sing about.”

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Rolling Stone manages to focus mainly on the music, but ends their review with: “Beats the crap out of Creed, but still . . .”

Over here it’s even more ridiculous. Convinced that nobody is interested in a Christian alt-rock act, Columbia aren’t even releasing the album in Europe, but leaving it to the Christian market to go it alone.

It gets worse. Walking into a Christian music store in central London to purchase Oh! Gravity, I was informed that they didn’t have it in stock, and they couldn’t tell me when it was going to be available. The only place you can be sure of finding a copy is at the website of Switchfoot’s UK Christian label (www.fierceshop.com).

With all these things taken into account, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Switchfoot were sold out at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire at the beginning of February.

The band is great when performing live, and the new material is strong. But even more staggering was the crowd: more than 3000 had squeezed into the available space. Every one of them seemed to know the words to every song — even the impossible-to-get new material. I go to about three gigs a week, and haven’t experienced an atmosphere like this for a long time.

Switchfoot were booked to perform at Greenbelt in 2006, but had to pull out, owing to family commitments. If we manage to snare them, as hoped, for this year’s festival, it promises to be a set you won’t want to miss. You’ve got six months to learn the words.

The Church Times in associate of the Greenbelt Festival, which takes place from 24-27 August 2007. For more details see www.greenbelt.org.uk

 

Switchfoot were booked to perform at Greenbelt in 2006, but had to pull out, owing to family commitments. If we manage to snare them, as hoped, for this year’s festival, it promises to be a set you won’t want to miss. You’ve got six months to learn the words.

The Church Times in associate of the Greenbelt Festival, which takes place from 24-27 August 2007. For more details see www.greenbelt.org.uk

 

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