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JFH Music Review

Switchfoot, Native Tongue

Native Tongue

Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Pop / Rock
Album length: 14 tracks: 52 minutes, 19 seconds
Street Date: January 18, 2019


The day was December 15th, 2017. Switchfoot announced their first official hiatus in over 20 years of bandhood. Christian music fans (and many of us staff writers here at Jesusfreakhideout) held their breath as we awaited the band's potentially precarious future. It's fairly common for groups to claim hiatus only to never return again. The suspense wasn't held for very long, however, as the San Diegan rockers issued another statement last September: they would be back with new music shortly. This made the gap between Where The Light Shines Through and their newest release, Native Tongue, only about 2 and a half years - pretty standard fare for an album cycle. One might question the need for the initial announcement in the first place, but it certainly heightened the anticipation for their eleventh studio album. Would this feel like a comeback album, more of the same, or something entirely different? In some ways, Native Tongue is in between all of those labels, and it's that quality of inconsistency that serves as its greatest detriment and its greatest prospect.

Foreman and company might not be the most inventive or musically diverse group around, but their steady sonic evolution and solid songwriting over the past two decades are what have made them a mainstay. Unfortunately, those strengths show cracks throughout the album. The trendy rock/rap of the title track is the first example of this. The tune simply doesn't fit their musical sensibilities, and although the lyrics work well, the message and delivery is no different from anything else Jon has sung over the past few albums. This tendency to be in vogue is leaned into even more heavily on tracks like "Voices" (as much a weaker Twenty One Pilots track as anything else), "Joy Invincible," and "All I Need." Switchfoot has always had a few tracks per album that feel like trend-bait (a la most of their singles), but this time around, it's a large chunk of the album, noticeably dulling the cutting edge of Jon's songwriting.

Outside of the songs that simply don't work, a number of tunes just don't have much staying power. Opener "Let It Happen" is a decent alternative anthem with a particularly fun bridge, but the lyrics and vocals feel a bit forced and hardly memorable. The same can be said for "Prodigal Soul," which feels like an early-era song for the group, but it doesn't leave much impact. This is the album's greatest shortcoming. So many of the tracks merely come and go, providing very little engaging material. As their first post-hiatus release, Native Tongue often feels like a lackluster misstep.

After the initial wave of disappointment mixed with exaggerated hype ebbs away, it becomes clear that there are still a few gems here that are definitely worth holding onto. "Dig New Streams" is a strange, mid-era-Beatles-sounding track complete with a drastic tempo change and bassist Tim on lead vocals for one of the verses. This is the type of experimentation that Switchfoot always does well, and it carries over into the second half of the album pretty strongly. "The Hardest Art" is surprisingly electronic, lyrically clever, and a truly risky song that pays off well. The fact that it leads right into the creative piano ballad "Wonderful Feeling" is an added bonus. "Take My Fire" sees the group dive heavily into garage rock mixed with hip hop, while "Oxygen" features the most unique sonic palette on the album, elevating itself over a clear genre through its multiple keys and disorientingly dreamy vibe.

If this review comes across as dichotomous, it's only because Native Tongue is quite the tale of two halves. Half of the album is the group at their most banal and desperately fashionable, while the other half is disparately exploratory and generally interesting. Perhaps this contrast is why they made this collection their "return" - they get to maintain commercial vitality while showing that there are still areas of sound they can attempt to traverse. That contrariety may have lead to a divisive album, but there's certainly enough here for everyone to release their breath and acknowledge that as long as these boys stick together, there is still hope for something worthwhile to come out of their unity.

- Review date: 1/1/19, written by Mason Haynie of

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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

Sometimes an artist taking time off can yield mixed results. The recharging of the artist's (or band's) life batteries may elongate their career and refresh the soul, but it can have tough results on the first material that comes out of that extended period away. This seems to be the case with Switchfoot's Native Tongue. It's a well-meaning album (an attempt to talk about love in our troubled times) that features a few great songs that will make it onto a greatest hit's album someday. But there is also a bit of filler here too.

As for the good-to-great songs, there are some true gems here. The title track is a swinging, upbeat song that carries a powerful metaphor. Jon Foreman's piercing lyrics about love (in words and actions) being our natural bent (pre-fall), our "native tongue," so to speak, are powerful ones, and full of C.S. Lewis-like metaphorical twists. It's also the catchiest melody here, and one of the band's finest hours; a song where the melody and message align in a majestic package. "All I Need" is a soaring anthemic number in the vein of "Dare You To Move," and also shares the DNA of the band's recent soundtrack offering from Unbroken: Path To Redemption, "You Found Me" (which is not in this collection of songs). Likewise, "The Hardest Art" (which features a great duet with Kaela Sinclair), "Joy Invincible," "Voices" and "The Strength To Let Go" are great, tuneful offerings. "Dig New Streams" is also notable for its late-period Beatles-like experimentation.

Alas, there are a few duds here as well. "We're Gonna Be Alright" is a goofy, if well-meaning, song that should not have seen the light of day. Likewise, "Take My Fire," "Let It Happen," "Wonderful Feeling," and "Oxygen" never really launch into fully formed songs that match what the band has historically done. But a mixed bag album from these veteran rockers is still a welcome thing, and many of these songs may translate well in a live setting. The great songs here are worth the price of admission. - Review date: 1/16/19, Alex Caldwell of


JFH Staff's Additional 2 Cents

    After a much publicized break from touring, Switchfoot returns with a passionate fourteen-track 11th studio album, almost 22 years after their debut. Native Tongue once again feels like an amalgam of familiar styles the band has dabbled in before, while venturing out into new territory as well, specifically with the electronic pop duet of "THE HARDEST ART" (feat. Kaela Sinclair), or the heartbreaking-but-hopeful soft pop of "Joy Invincible" (which is especially timely in the wake of member Jerome Fontamillas' recent battle with--and victory over--kidney cancer). The raw pop rock stylings of opener "LET IT HAPPEN," "ALL I NEED" and quirky "DIG NEW STREAMS" make the album feel like a natural bridge between 2006's Oh! Gravity. and 2009's Hello Hurricane, while the fun and funky title track, "VOICES," and "TAKE MY FIRE" (the bass line of the latter of which reminds me, fondly, of the theme to the Bond film Quantum of Solace) feel like a natural progression following the poppier leanings of Fading West and Where the Light Shines Through. The bottom portion of the album isn't nearly as catching as the top, but at-first unassuming highlights "OXYGEN," "THE STRENGTH TO LET GO" (a beautiful song that is a prayer of this reviewer's heart), and the peppy "WE'RE GONNA BE ALRIGHT" take on a life of their own with each listen. As lovely as the simple piano ballad "YOU'RE THE ONE I WANT" is, it brings the album to a sleepy conclusion (and the song feels more fitting for a Jon Foreman album than a Switchfoot one), which is likely to leave some listeners feeling a bit unsatisfied. Still, Native Tongue remains a strong pop rock album from a long-running band that we're thankful is still in the game, and each consecutive listen to the record is a rewarding one. 2019 is off to a great start with Native Tongue. (And I have to add, the preorder bonus track "LET'S GO HIGHER" feels like the anthemic album closer this project deserves.) - 1/13/19 John DiBiase

    Switchfoot's 11th studio album boasts their longest track list to date, yet has the fewest songs that reach the high quality we've come to expect from the band. Aside from the infectious melodies of a couple songs ("Native Tongue," "Voices") and the sonic experimentation on the throwback "Dig New Streams" and electronic "The Hardest Art," there just isn't much here that is noteworthy or impressionable. Commercially, this is a fairly viable output and is certainly worth the money of most Switchfoot fans, but creatively (especially lyrically), it feels like a lesser retread of Hello Hurricane, Vice Verses, and other previous works. - 1/16/19 Christopher Smith

    With interviews revealing that Switchfoot sorted through over one hundred songs for inclusion on Native Tongue, it's clear they were not lacking for material during their "hiatus." For the most part, they nailed their "sound" with their newest offering, utilizing enough twists to keep it fresh. The front half of the album--with "Let It Happen," "Native Tongue," "Voices," and "Dig New Streams"--is the most immediately accessible musically, but repeat listens of the aforementioned songs lack lyrical staying power. It took more time for the EDM tinged "Hardest Art," the piano ballad "Wonderful Feeling," and "spacey" "Oxygen" to connect with this reviewer, but now there are album favorites. A trimmer track list would have benefited the album (with the final two songs getting the axe), though overall, it is still a strong Switchfoot album falling somewhere in the middle of their catalog if I were ranking it today. - 1/16/19 Josh Balogh

    Following a well-earned break from the road, the San-Diego natives (pun intended!) have returned with an exciting follow-up to 2016's excellent Where The Light Shines Through. Native Tongue sees the band both experimenting with new styles and sticking to what they know best which, admittedly, tends to feel somewhat safe and uncharacteristically vanilla at certain points. In some respects then, Native Tongue harkens back to the Oh! Gravity era of the band: a season of testing the waters to see what works and what can be left off the next time around. The only difference is that what works here works exceptionally well. - 1/16/19 Lucas Munachen

    You can always expect some surprises with each Switchfoot album, and Native Tongue certainly qualifies as a unique project for the audiophile. Switchfoot couldn’t have picked a better opener than “Let it Happen,” a nice solid rock anthem with the message of not letting things overwhelm you. ("I don’t know what the future holds / but I know you are my future") The title track is very captivating with its rhythmic drums, and will likely remain a requested song for years to come. “All I Need” is a typical Switchfoot ballad and there’s nothing wrong with that, as they usually strike a chord with fans and are easily relatable to life experiences. “Voices” is a change from the typical sound we are accustomed to with Switchfoot in almost the same manner as 30 Seconds to Mars' "Hail to the Victor" generated in 2018. The biggest surprise is “The Hardest Art” as it's unlike any previous style performed by Switchfoot, yet, for some reason, it’s easy to appreciate this tune with its could-be-a-pinnacle-experience-in-a-movie-soundtrack feel. “The Strength to Let Go” is a great ballad that touches on the topic of relinquishing whatever is bringing us down. The rest of the album might take some time to grow, because it’s not lively and doesn’t share the same experience felt with the first half of Native Tongue. The beginning of this album is so powerful that it more than makes up for this flaw and is a very welcome addition to the Switchfoot or rock music library. 2019 has just begun and we already have an impressive album to listen to for the weeks and months ahead. - 1/17/19 Wayne Myatt

    Switchfoot's latest album focusing on love requires multiple listens. Initially, you might think it's a bland album, a second listen might reveal more layers, while a third may give a deeper appreciation. There is some excess here that could've been trimmed down, and some of the themes don't feel like they land quite right, but overall, Native Tongue is an enjoyable album worth visiting. - 1/16/19 John Underdown

    Eleven records and a recently terminated hiatus haven't slowed down Christian pop rock staple Switchfoot. Boasting an impressive degree of collaboration with some of the top names in the industry, the band's latest outing, Native Tongue, proves to be one of the most diverse and varied Switchfoot offerings to date. The influence of OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and Brent Kutzle truly come to light on tracks such as "Voices" and title track "Native Tongue," one of the album highlights. The innovation of tracks such as "Dig New Streams" and "The Hardest Art (feat. Kaela Sinclair)" reveal that the band still has plenty of golden tricks left up the sleeve. While the California act had many fans scared with 2017's announcement of an open-ended hiatus, we can be thankful that Jon Foreman and company have decided to return to the stage (at least) once more. - 1/17/19 David Craft



. Record Label: 2019 Fantasy Records, a division of Concord Music Group, Inc.
. Album length: 14 tracks: 52 minutes, 19 seconds
. Street Date: January 18, 2019
. Buy It:
. Buy It: Apple Music
. Buy It: AmazonMP3

  1. LET IT HAPPEN (4:41)
  2. NATIVE TONGUE (4:38)
  3. ALL I NEED (3:08)
  4. VOICES (2:58)
  5. DIG NEW STREAMS (3:45)
  6. JOY INVINCIBLE (3:42)
  7. PRODIGAL SOUL (3:51)
  8. THE HARDEST ART (feat. Kaela Sinclair) (4:13)
  10. TAKE MY FIRE (3:45)
  12. OXYGEN (4:14)
  14. YOU'RE THE ONE I WANT (2:05) Exclusive Bonus Tracks:
  15. ALL I NEED (West Coast Edition) (Bonus Track) (3:23)
  16. LET'S GO HIGHER (Bonus Track) (4:59)
  17. NATIVE TONGUE (Acoustic) (Bonus Track) (4:34)

    Walmart Exclusive Bonus Tracks:
  18. WHITE LIES (Bonus Track) (4:09)
  19. DON'T WANT YOUR MONEY (Bonus Track) (3:10)
  20. ALL I NEED (Acoustic) (Bonus Track) (3:10)
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