Before the release of their fourth album, Switchfoot was a simple indie rock group composed of three members: brothers Jon and Tim Foreman and Chad Butler. The Beautiful Letdown not only changed the dynamic of the band, but of their music, their message and their future. In addition to newcomer Jerome Fontamillas on the guitar and keyboard, this album brought Switchfoot to new heights, soaring above any of the band’s past work with poetic songwriting, a more mainstream sound and a growing sense of artistry. This group’s Christian beliefs of hope and love were apparent in the past, but never has it been so well-articulated and generally accessible, being sincere rather than preachy. Jon Foreman’s Bono-esque vocals were always unique, but never were they so pronounced, affecting and prolific. And the band’s music was always engaging, but never has it been more compelling and more enjoyable. So although it changed their sound forever, The Beautiful Letdown launched Switchfoot into national prominence, garnered widespread success and is their defining album to this day.
From the very beginning of The Beautiful Letdown, it’s pretty evident that Switchfoot is making strides in a more mainstream direction with the explosive “Meant To Live,” one of the heaviest songs in the band’s catalogue. With booming drums from Chad Butler and thundering guitar riffs from Jon Foreman and Fontamillas, this pensive and moody rocker shows an aggressive and rarely seen garage-band-jam-session side of Switchfoot. Foreman’s deep and drawling vocals are superbly composed despite the sonic intensity around him, giving this leadoff track an edgy and yet simultaneously contemplative tone as Foreman illustrates “Dreaming about Providence and whether mice or men have second tries / Maybe we’ve been living with our eyes half-open, maybe we’re bent and broken / We were meant to live for so much more / Have we lost ourselves?”
Switchfoot has always had an innate ability to be both relatable and transcendent with their songs, capturing in musical form both the eternal questions that face humanity and the answers that elude it. “Dare You To Move,” a revamped version of “I Dare You To Move” from Learning To Breathe, is the band’s finest example of such a song, and is without a doubt the hit single that propelled The Beautiful Letdown to 2.6 million sold copies. This complexly layered rock ballad is much heavier, dramatic, intense and moving this time around, powered by inspirational acoustic guitar, the stirring blare of electric guitars, Tim Foreman’s background bass and Foreman’s impassioned wails. Such an uplifting and hopeful track speaks volumes about Switchfoot’s lyrical prowess; Foreman is a brilliant songwriter, but he’s an affecting poet and philanthropist as well. And as he weaves his way through this emotional masterpiece, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is not only the best song of The Beautiful Letdown, but also the best song Switchfoot’s ever created.
“On Fire” ditches the arena rock guitars in favor of the more soothing acoustic guitar, complementing the calm drum beat, emotive piano and Foreman’s appeasing vocals for a wonderfully heartfelt and meditative ballad. This song slows the tempo of the album and in its simplicity, Foreman and company shine as their constant, penetrating message of God’s love rings true.
Moving away from the indie rock style of their first three albums, Switchfoot offers a more mainstream experience with their third album, but never strays from the similar Christian and poetically piercing messages of faith and love of the past. However, these ideas are strengthened and improved like never before, combining with enjoyable and genuine composition to be more effective and relatable than ever. The Beautiful Letdown reflects on the fragile nature of mankind, but also on the desire and hope in man’s search for something more (“I don’t belong here / I will carry a cross and a song where I don’t belong” sings Foreman in “The Beautiful Letdown”). And with the new alternative rock sound, those thought-provoking sentiments have never sounded better either. In fact, The Beautiful Letdown is one of the few Switchfoot albums where the middle-ground, mellow-and-upbeat songs hold their own, delivering entertainment and intrigue with the same effectiveness as the slow ballads and arena rock anthems that previously defined the band. Fans of Relient K, Anberlin, Fiction Family, Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, House Of Heroes, U2 and Lifehouse should enjoy this pleasant style of rock, its surprisingly accessible Christian message, and the distinct subtleties of Foreman’s voice, which all help make The Beautiful Letdown a classic album.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Rank: 2nd (eight total albums)
- Meant To Live
- This Is Your Life
- More Than Fine
- Dare You To Move
- The Beautiful Letdown
- On Fire
- Adding To Noise
- Twenty Four