Number Eight. Switchfoot - The Beautiful Letdown (February 25, 2003)
"It was a beautiful letdown, the day I knew / All the riches this world had to offer me would never do"
Jon Foreman is one of my favorite lyricists due to his ability to poignantly express the deepest feelings of my soul with the simplest of words. My introduction to Switchfoot began with a call to Lindenwood's radio station that played Christian rock on Saturday nights and received CDs to give away (the limited number of interested listeners made it super easy to win stuff!). In less than a minute, The Beautiful Letdown was mine - free and legal!
I absolutely loved it. It's one of the few albums I can specifically recall listening to over and over on my CD Walkman. (Yes, friends, we now have obsolete musical technology to fondly explain to our children just as our forefathers did to us!) This poppy, radio-friendly stuff is probably not what comes to mind when you think of intricate multi-layered albums, meant for repeated listens and growth, but this is where I was introduced to that kind of epiphany: Woah! There's piano chords on "Meant to Live"! I never even noticed that the first twenty-seven times I played it! (This is an actual memory, although the number was fabricated for effect.)
The album also forced me to begin reevaluating my paradigms about the Christian/secular divide. It was easy to dismiss those weird P.O.D. guys as not real Christians because they got played on secular radio! Not so easy when your new favorite band blows up on those same stations and sells 2.6 million copies, paving the way for all your other favorite bands to do the same thing. I was too naive to understand the complexities of using or not using Jesus' name to sell more records (because both are surely done, depending on your target market), but I at least began to appreciate artist intent, even if I didn't like the fact that it felt like they were dimming their light to go out into the darkness, so to speak. But I think Switchfoot was part of a growing movement that replaced mockery with respect for Christian musicians by non-Christians. My views on Christian music and evangelism continued to evolve drastically over the course of this decade, and I believe it was one of the most important facets of the music world for me - and for most of the Christian music industry as well.
The Beautiful Letdown is indelibly associated with my early high school days: listening to it on sports tournament trips or while riding my bike through the neighborhood.. discussing the album with the upperclassmen in Yearbook… playing "On Fire" on piano or "Twenty-four" and "I Dare You To Move" on the guitar… memorizing and dissecting every lyric… I still love each and every song, and can still pretty much sing along to every song, too. I don't know if you have a song that instantly transports you back to the happy innocence of your adolescence… maybe it's "I Want It That Way" or "All The Small Things" or "My Sacrifice." For me it's definitely Switchfoot's "Gone." I can't sing it without smiling. Yet the brilliance of the song is that it represents the greatest joys of my youth while simultaneously conveying important themes that still speak to me: "Summer break is gone / Saturday is gone / Just try to prove me wrong / And pretend like you're immortal." Psst! Hey Josh! whispers Foreman. Don't waste your time and focus on the trivial. …And then straight into an outro about Sinatra, Pacino, and Lexus cages…. Does it get any better than that?!