“Fading West,” the new album from San-Diego-bred rock band Switchfoot, comes off as less than I expected.
I know, I know: “Those guys are still around?” you’re probably thinking. They are, though admittedly they’ve yet to repeat the double platinum success they found in 2003 with “The Beautiful Letdown.” (That album? Still awesome, by the way. I’ve routinely blared “Meant to Live” on road trips to the beach for over a decade now.)
What’s exactly the hangup with “Fading West,” then? The album is an unashamed pop-opera, an experiment in the punchy and the pristine. All eleven tracks glisten, but only a few actually hit their mark. If you were to remove Jon Foreman’s ragged vocals from the mix, many of these cuts sound like perfectly tedious Top 40 radio fare (with “Let it Out” being one of the worst offenders).
In a nutshell: “Fading West” will prove to be a sour taste in the mouth of the faithful. But I’ve been let down by bands before. It’s something I’ve come to expect as a self-proclaimed audiophile, though it’s never something I’ve quite gotten used to. After all, once you’ve grown accustomed to disappointment, you’re pretty much just asking for it at that point, right?
Nonetheless, it sucks when a band we love and respect releases a product we deem inferior to what we know they’re capable of. Such is my beef with “Fading West,” a collection of mediocre songs released in tandem with the band’s recent documentary of the same name.
But it’s more than just a soundtrack to a movie. Switchfoot claims to have put the same heart and soul into “Fading West” the album just as they have with their past records. Which then begs the question: why is the final product so much less than what I hoped for?
Granted, I haven’t yet seen the film, which purportedly plays like a wistful travelogue of the band’s international touring and surfing endeavors (“switchfoot,” after all, is a surfing term, the recreation of which the California natives in the band are big, big fans). Maybe, just maybe, a quick viewing will change my perception on the “Fading West” project. I don’t know. It’s not really important.
What I do know, however, is that there is to be found a certain appreciation for artists—whether musicians, actors or writers—who attempt to shake things up. Even if they fail. Perhaps especially if they fail. Because failure, at the very least, offers escape from creative ruts, even if it’s not exactly the type of escape one was looking for.
But disappointment is all part of the artistic struggle, isn’t it? It’s the fight shared by Switchfoot and Madonna and Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso and anyone else who has ever dared to be creative in public.
It’s at this intersection of creativity and failure where something if not at least beautiful then certainly noble is found.