Switchfoot is ready to follow-up Christmas Day with their third mainstream release (sixth overall), Oh! Gravity. - a distinct stylistic departure from their previous projects. Noticeably edgier and glaringly more unbridled, Oh! Gravity. twists and turns through twelve tracks that take the listener on a musical rollercoaster ride from the raucous title track to the ponderous "Yesterdays" to the Brit-pop "Burn Out Bright" and the softer and unpolished "Let Your Love Be Strong."
What's immediately obvious about Oh! Gravity. is how melody is often forsaken for somewhat spastic and unpredictable songwriting, while the lyrical themes once again revisit topics such as politics and materialism. Where previous records offered deeper, soul-reaching songs like "Learning To Breathe," "You," "Let That Be Enough," and "Dare You To Move," Oh! Gravity. seems to dwell too much on materialism and consumerism, further virtually beating the subject to death. Since the band's 1999 sophomore album New Way To Be Human, Switchfoot has touched on the topic of materialism and achieving the American dream ("Company Car"), later using songs like "Gone" and "Meant To Live" to convey their desires for something more than an empty life or the trappings of the world's rat race. Nothing Is Sound, which released late last Summer, was considerably darker than previous albums, touching on similar themes while maintaining a sort of Ecclesiastical "everything is meaningless" kind of message. Oh! Gravity. merely gives the appearance of a more upbeat and lighter thematical packaging by wrapping it in a sort of childlike exuberance musically, but a closer look at the lyrical content will reveal that it's really just a retread of the band's more recent trend of pointing out problems while seldom ever suggesting any solutions. The title track, "American Dream," "4:12," and "Circles" are among these continuous lamentations, with Jon Foreman's usually reliable songwriting taking unwelcomed ambiguous political leanings on the title track and "Dirty Second Hands." While the musically diverse approach to Oh! Gravity. is often hyper or upbeat, there's a sense of overconfidence in Foreman's songwriting that allows awkward or sub par writing like "Train the monkeys on my back to fight" to somehow find its way onto a Switchfoot record. You won't find a "Shadow Proves The Sunshine" or "Let That Be Enough" here. Instead, the anti-melodic "Let Your Love Be Strong," although lyrically a subtle acknowledgement of Christ's love giving strength, is nothing more than the most unsatisfying conclusion for a Switchfoot record. Upon hearing the bonus download "Revenge" that's available with purchase of the record, it only confirms that Foreman can pen some really poignant ballads and even this b-side would have made a more fitting and long-lasting finish.
This isn't to say Oh! Gravity. is a complete loss. Not at all. The band deserves kudos for trying new things and new sounds, aiming for a Brit-pop feel on "Burn Out Bright," fiddling with a southern flavor on "Dirty Second Hands," or holding little back on the album's title track. Also, the anthemic "Awakening" is possibly the record's standout track, offering the kind of songwriting strength we've come to expect from Switchfoot. Still yet, the somber and pensive "Yesterdays" seems to touch on the topic of death while the catchy and riff-driven "Head Over Heels (In This Life)" is a fine and catchy rock-driven love song.
The over-hyped Oh! Gravity. is just listenable enough to please diehard fans as well as those who found the deliciously catchy Nothing Is Sound too predictable, but gravity won't be what may keep this record from getting off the ground. Sometimes fun, sometimes frenzied, sometimes pretentious (two words: "Amateur Lovers"), Oh! Gravity. may have its moments and some good intentions, but it's probably the most forgettable album from the band to date.- Review date: 12/12/06, written by John DiBiase
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