There can be a world of difference between Christian music, and music made by Christians. Few would confuse early Amy Grant songs with U2’s latest sounds, for instance. Nevertheless, deep faith plays a large part in each artist’s repertoires, even though they differ widely, stylistically. Grant began by singing songs directly to Jesus, whereas U2 took a more poetic approach to working its belief system into lyrics. Christians do not need to say “Jesus” in every song to still present a Christian worldview. The act of consistently portraying Christian values often does that job just as well, and sometimes does an even better job of it.
You won’t hear the name “Jesus” on Switchfoot’s Oh! Gravity., but this talented band’s art is nevertheless obviously haunted by a holy ghost. Vocalist/lyricist Jonathan Foreman is someone on a mission to help remake man in God’s image. He sees fellow men chasing after the wind and ending up empty handed—especially fellow Americans. But he will not get caught up in such a fruitless rat race himself. He explains on “American Dream”, “I want to live and die for bigger things”, in a world where “success is equated with excess” and where seemingly everyone around him is “fighting for the Beamer, the Lexus”. Such statements make you wonder just what America is offering the Iraqis in the war over there. If we Americans don’t have a healthy grasp on what it means to be happy Americans, how can we give those war-torn people something better than what they have now?
“American Dream” features the sort of familiar choppy guitars and breathless vocals we’ve come to expect from and appreciate about Switchfoot. This CD’s best track, however, breaks from the act’s usual melodic rock. “Dirty Second Hand” rolls with acoustic blues guitar. It is, in a word, swampy. It even includes touches of Dylan-y wordplay, such as the couplet “You bought the American rot / The very seed that you thought you shot / With dirty second hands, dirty second hands”. And much like with the best Dylan, I’m not exactly sure who is on the punishment end of this diatribe. But it doesn’t really matter, because it just flows so forcefully. The track’s music is a little like U2 sounded when it began to explore traditional American music with Joshua Tree. And this is the sort of experimentation Switchfoot needs to dig into if it wants to grow and separate itself from today’s glut of kids-with-guitars bands.
The only fault I find with Oh! Gravity. is that it lacks the one great ballad, like “Twenty-Four” from The Beautiful Letdown a few albums back. Even so, “Yesterdays” is a valiant attempt to match that wonderful track’s lyrical contemplation. Foreman mourns, “I still can’t believe you’re gone”, as he obviously describes a friend who has died.
Switchfoot would amount to nothing more than holier-than-thou finger pointers if it did not also offer an alternative to our dying American dream. “Burn Out Bright” is just that—a ray of hope. “If we only got one try / If we’ve only got one life / If time was never on our side / Before I die I want to burn out bright”, Foreman offers hopefully. “Awakening” further seconds that emotion. Foreman admits, “Last week found me living for nothing but deadlines”, before he wishes out loud, “I wanna wake up kicking and screaming / I wanna know that my heart’s still beating”. Both of these songs echo the sentiment of “Meant to Live”, also from The Beautiful Letdown, where he similarly sang eloquently about living for more than meaningless materialism; he obviously believes in the Biblical philosophy of storing up his treasures in heaven, instead.
Foreman doesn’t quote scripture or preach the Four Spiritual Laws with his songs. But both “Burn Out Bright” and “Awakening” are no doubt musical prayers. He is just as quick to detail the gravity of his own sin as that of seemingly godless men, which makes him easier on the ears than many so called Christian rockers. Foreman is one wise observer, even if you don’t buy into his faith.