The Shadow Proves the Sunshine: The Legend of Switchfoot
The band Switchfoot hit the Christian music scene in the late 1990s with their debut entitled The Legend of Chin. Their popularity exploded in 2003 with the success of their fourth album The Beautiful Letdown. It was a mainstream success and garnered them a lot of radio play and millions in album sales. They have recently released their tenth studio album Where the Light Shines Through, and they show no signs of slowing down. As a band they have always done a great job of avoiding the lyrical clichés and formulaic music that are so common on Christian radio. With nearly two decades and ten albums under their belt I felt it was time to evaluate their career with one of my favorite writing gimmicks: Overrated, Underrated or Properly Rated. Let’s take a look at each album and see how they stack up.
The Legend of Chin – 1997.
Much of this was written when Jon Foreman (lead singer, primary songwriter) was in high school or shortly thereafter. Many fans dismiss this album because it was all over the place stylistically and was not as focused lyrically as later albums. I completely disagree. There is a carefree nature to this record that they have never recaptured on anything they have done since. The songs move in unexpected (but very welcome) directions and are just plain fun. They would get better as a band as time went by, but they never sounded like they were having as much fun as they did on this record.
New Way to be Human – 1999.
While this isn’t exactly a sophomore slump it is a step down from their debut. Jon Foreman seemed to try to force fit a course in systematic theology in every three-minute song. While I applaud his effort the results were decidedly mixed. Musically they played it safe way too often.
Learning to Breathe – 2001.
At this point the band continued to grow in popularity while not really improving that much musically. All the problems with New Way still plagued this record although, to be fair, it is an improvement. It has not aged that well though and it’s unfortunate that Dare You to Move which is by far the best song on this record was re-recorded (and improved) for the next album.
The Beautiful Letdown – 2003.
They added another member to the band for this album to help provide a fuller sound and it definitely paid off. The lyrics are the strongest they had written up to that point in their career and they finally decided to stop playing around and just rock on songs like Meant to Live. This album set the stage for everything that was to follow. Why do I say it is overrated? Because most fans and critics consider it their best work and to put it bluntly – it isn’t. There are still a couple overly happy pop/rock songs that should have never seen the light of day. I’m looking at you, More Than Fine.
Nothing is Sound – 2005.
Coming on the heels of a fan favorite like The Beautiful Letdown this album had higher expectations than anything they had recorded before or since. For some reason many fans did not like what they heard. I am NOT among them. The band added a second guitarist so the sound was bigger than it had ever been before. Foreman wrote some of the best lyrics of his career on songs like Happy is a Yuppie Word and The Shadow Proves the Sunshine. For the most part he accomplished his goal of taking complex subjects and communicating them effectively while working within the limitations of a three to four minute song. I’m not sure what people were expecting when they heard this album, but I have very few complaints.
Oh! Gravity. – 2006.
A forgotten record for many fans. Even their record company dumped this at the worst time of the year for sales purposes as this was the final album on their contract. Let me be clear, this is far from their best work, but it is also far from their worst. Any record that has a song as great as Awakening gets points in my book plus the title track is a lot of fun.
Hello Hurricane – 2009.
This is their best album. Hands down. Perfect mix of hard rockers, melodic rockers and ballads. Great radio songs and even better deep cuts. There is a confidence in both the music and lyrics that had not been seen before in the band. I consider it slightly underrated because most fans acknowledge that it is among the best work in their career, but I will not rest until EVERY SINGLE FAN sees it my way!
Vice Verses – 2011.
Quite a few similarities between this album and Hello Hurricane. It is not quite as good as its predecessor but definitely among their best. It was well received by fans and critics alike. The album’s closer Where I Belong is among the top five songs they have ever recorded.
Fading West – 2013.
The shiny production (some have called it over produced) and pop direction of this record took some time for me to get used to. It also does not help that the best songs are all at the end of the album. The reviews and fan reception were mixed and that is probably fair since there are flaws. It has definitely grown on me, though. Several really good to great songs on this record.
Where the Light Shines Through – 2016.
Too early to tell.
The band decided to try a lot of different styles musically on this record. Sometimes it works (I Won’t Let You Go, If the House Burns Down Tonight) sometimes it doesn’t (Bull in a China Shop, Shake this Feeling) but they deserve kudos for challenging themselves and not repeating the same album over and over again. The lyrics are well written as usual and more overtly “Christian” than anything they have done in years. Only time will tell where this one fits in the band’s canon.
Switchfoot has displayed remarkable quality and consistency over the years and there is no reason to think their best work is behind them. We have included a Spotify playlist to spotlight some of their top songs.
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7 thoughts on “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine: The Legend of Switchfoot”
I think I pretty much agree with all of these except for Fading West which I believe is underrated. It’s such a fun and energetic album. Nothing is Sound is really good. Not sure why it disappointed so many.
You sure do know your music and bands, Michael! Thanks for sharing.
I found Fading West at McKay’s over the weekend – for $2.45. There is so much to love about this album, and if you can find a more spirit-lifting song than Saltwater Heart, please tell me.
Shameless plug: http://www.mckaybooks.com/
Just found your site…pretty much agree!…legend of Chin is soo underrated!…Beautiful Letdown is considered their best album because of the mass exposure to the song Meant to Live! I also think Nothing is Sound is their best album!…Most of the songs on Nothing is Sound were recorded with Drop D on the guitar so with the double guitars and the Drop D it made a stronger more robust sound! All those power chord guitar riffs!
Agree with your take on Nothing is Sound. It’s right behind Hello Hurricane for me. Thanks for the comment, Rick!
Ooof that’s a rough take on TBL. It’s got their some of their best songs and is strong top-to-bottom beyond the known singles. “More than Fine” may sound happy/poppy but the lyrics hold a weariness that juxtaposes the music just right for me. Plus “Ammunition” “”Redemption” “On Fire” and “24” are all fantastic deeper cuts. Might need to revisit it with fresh ears for its 20th anniversary February 25, 2023.
I don’t think Mike disagrees with you that it’s a really good album. He just believes it’s overrated in that most fans and critics think it’s their best, while he holds other albums higher. As do I, to be honest. “More Than Fine” has fine lyrics but the song is just a dud to me as well.