Music Review: Native Tongue by Switchfoot

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Updated May 22, 2019
SWITCHFOOT - LET IT HAPPEN - Official Music Video

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GRAMMY® Award-winning rock band SWITCHFOOT releases their 11th full-length album, Native Tongue, today via Fantasy Records. Throughout 2019, SWITCHFOOT will take the project's message of love and hope to their multitude of fans on the North American leg of their Native Tongue Tour, which kicks off February 14th in Asheville, N.C.

“These are polarizing times, where the loudest voice is often the voice of anger or fear. This album is an attempt to sing that hope into life. To bring a group of diverse songs under one common banner. Hatred is not your native language. Love is your Native Tongue." – Jon Foreman

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Native Tongue by Switchfoot
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Back in 2017 Jon Foreman and his Switchfoot bandmates announced a hiatus and the Christian music world wondered if this was the last that we would hear of one of the biggest Christian bands of the last 20 years. Other bands have gone on hiatus and then never actually regrouped, could this be the fate of our beloved Switchfoot? Thankfully in September 2018 the band announced that they had rested and new songs were flowing out of that period that they were eager to get stuck into. This album is the result of that time spent off the road, but Switchfoot's albums have been notoriously hit and miss, so would this album be a big comeback release or something different?

One thing that has remained consistent through their 20+ years as a band is the songwriting from Jon Foreman. Sometimes deep, sometimes catchy, and also sometimes a little confusing but always with a sharp edge and a rawness of spirit. It is these lyrics that see tracks like the title track "Native Tongue" soar and take on a life of its own. This song opens up the idea that love should be our "Native Tongue", like the best of songs it's catchy and it has something important to say, we learn to hate, but love is our native tongue. The song before this is "Let It Happen" which some won't like, for me, it is well written but the music doesn't quite do the lyrics justice, but I like the raw feel of the rock-style. "All I Need" seems to be addressing God as Love and asks "do you believe in me?" This song sits somewhere between the other two stylistically, opening with the acoustic guitar and finger snaps along with vocal background effects.

"Voices" is a track that will speak to many talking about the voices in our heads. Some people will take this as a mental health statement, and I think there is an aspect of this, but in all honesty, I don't think this is about people who hear things that aren't there. Instead, this is all the opinions that we listen to from life around us, the media, social media, friends opinions and all the other influences that we are bombarded with, all of which have a viewpoint. At the end of the track there is a request for clarity; "Every moment crowded with choices, speak to me and drown out the voices." We voluntarily surround ourselves with other peoples opinions from all these sources and we take on their opinions as truth for aspects of our lives, making us unhappy in our walk, relationships, finance, jobs, really our happiness doesn't lie in changing them, but in listening to the source of truth, seeking God's voice in the word. "Dig New Streams" is a surprising song, not because of it's words or theme, but because the style is very un-switchfoot! Having said that I love the jazzy guitars and the brass section. For a band that doesn't pigeonhole itself as a "Christian" band, there is a lot of Christ in this track! It talks about those who have been hurt by the "Church of black and white" which possibly refers to issues around race but also the legalism of religion and it reminds us that Jesus says that his burden is easy.

"Joy Invincible" gives us a story of someone facing a health situation, not knowing how things are going to turn out, yet there is trust that through this moment the person can still sing "Hallelujah". The Christian life can give us hope and Joy that is invincible when we know the source and provider of all and this, but not only that we are Children of the promise, and God is a good Father and we can rest and praise Him for His goodness to us. This is reinforced with the next song "Prodigal Soul" which is based on Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son who gets to the end of himself and then realises that his Father's servants are treated with a better life than what he has made for himself. This starts again with an acoustic opener and the vocal pours out pain, frustration and the longing to come home.  "The Hardest Art" reminds us that love isn't easy, despite what the movies teach us, we have to work at it to live in love with someone! 

So from this point the album seems to take a bit of an odd turn! Many of the songs on the second half of the album feel like they aren't quite ready to be released. "Wonderful Feeling", "Take My Fire", "Oxygen" all seem to miss the mark of what is expected of a release from this band. There is one track that I am not even going to credit with a mention in this review because it is pretty poor and I can't really imagine what they were thinking in including it on the album! The highlight of this second half is "The Strength To Let Go" which is something that we all need, when we trust God we need to give our struggles over to Him to deal with and we need to let go of them completely. The album finishes with "You're The One I Want" which is a nice reflective romantic song, it concentrates on the piano and the vocals. It's not the strongest song on this album but it leaves you in a nice place to finish!

On an album like this, there is a high expectation of good quality songs that are going to enrich our lives, and thankfully those are there! This is, I think, the first time that Switchfoot have put out a 14 track album, which is great, but I honestly think this would be a stronger album if 4 of these songs were left for another day to be re-worked or just abandoned. Thankfully as we can all listen to our music on playlists these days we can choose to abandon the tracks that we don't like. There is a lot of God on this album even without the specific mention, the faith of the band shines through on many of the tracks and the focus on love is evidence in itself! This is largely Switchfoot back on track and bringing some great sounds, experimenting with something a little different, but mostly sticking with what they know and their strength in Foremans lyrics which will see them through a bad music choice more often than not!

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