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Vice Verses
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4 Stars - Excellent
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Artist
Release Date
September 27, 2011
Label
Atlantic

Style: Signature stadium rock; compare to Foo Fighters, Relient K, U2

Top tracks: "Vice Verses," "Selling the News," "Dark Horses"

There are rare bands that recreate their sound with every album, and there are those that don't fix what ain't broke. Switchfoot ain't fixing with Vice Verses, but that doesn't mean the multi-platinum arena rockers aren't willing to tinker with the signature sound they've successfully forged over the past 15 years.

With the band reclaiming more creative control in its own studio, 2009's Hello Hurricane pushed into edgier, more muscular territory without abandoning the swelling sound fans love. Vice Verses plays like Hurricane's sequel with a few stylistic additions. Songs such as "The Original" and "Dark Horses" push the harder edge, and "Afterlife" ratchets up a notch with hints of Linkin Park. Overall the guitars are big, sometimes snarling, occasionally laying down the funk a la Red Hot Chili Peppers ("Rise Above It"). And the swirl of towering percussion and electrobuzz behind the six-strings is broader than ever. But the sparse, acoustic title track and the nostalgic ballad "Souvenirs" bring quieter balance. Most surprising is the Beck-like spoken word delivery of "Selling the News," and "The War Inside" runs a close second for rhythmic vocals and a hip hop backbeat.

Thematically, frontman Jon Foreman says the album is about "tension and release, an attempt to describe the polarity of the human experience." "Vice Verses" captures that most poignantly when it laments "Every blessing comes with a set of curses," questions "Where is God in the earthquake? Where is God in the genocide?", and prayerfully pleads "Tell me that you're there."

Most of the material is stock and trade for Switchfoot: yearning, struggling, broken humanity blended with the miracle of love. "Afterlife" shouts down God's kingdom with a similar unrest as "Happy Is a Yuppie Word" (from Nothing Is Sound). Longing to "thrive not just survive," "Thrive" echoes "More Than Fine" and "Meant to Live" (from The Beautiful Letdown). And "Selling the News" decries cultural power systems much like "American Dream" (from Oh! Gravity).

The similarities run the risk of repetition, and there's room for wider experimentation. But smart and honest songwriting keeps things fresh. Foreman's metaphors keep fueling epic anthems that don't flinch from pain and doubt but won't let go of hope either—even if only by a fingerhold. Vice Verses pounds out Switchfoot's evolving soundtrack for a messy yet grand spiritual journey. It's what they do with subtlety and universal appeal better than most. If "Where I Belong" is an indicator, they won't let up anytime soon: "Until I die I'll sing these songs … Still looking for a home / In a world where I belong."

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