By DAN MACINTOSH
Covers albums can take on a wide spectrum of variations. Many of these projects include the older songs that inspired artists to create their own music in the first place.
Listening to these types of covers releases can sometimes explain how said artist artistically got from point A to point B. Switchfoot’s surprise quarantine six-song Covers collection, however, is not one of these ‘under their influence’ efforts. Rather, it’s a sometimes-surprising smattering of contemporary songs, which are given the that undeniable Switchfoot fingerprint.
All Switchfoot recordings (even its cover versions) still sound like Switchfoot songs because of lead singer Jon Foreman’s oftentimes tortured sounding voice. His singing cracks and strains itself along the way, intentionally so. He’s not a perfect vocalist, but he always sounds like he means each and every word he sings.
Some of the artists Switchfoot chooses to cover here are not always the ones you would have predicted. Vampire Weekend is a smart pop-rock band from New York. Both bands are cut from similar cloth. Each act matches intelligent lyrics with inventive rock – but not hard rock – music. Therefore, this set’s inclusion of “Harmony Hall” is a hand-in-glove fit into Switchfoot’s repertoire.
Similarly, it’s highly understandable that this San Diego group has taken on Britpop icon The Verve’s “Lucky Man.” Lastly, although Switchfoot’s audience is far different from Harry Styles’ post-boy band throng, he’s a lot deeper than many might realize. Styles’ “Lights Up” is only slightly a head-scratcher.
This release’s unexpected pleasures include the Chainsmokers’ “Sick Boy.” It’s easy to hate on The Chainsmokers, due to all that duo’s crazy radio success. Listening to “Sick Boy,” however, reveals an honest and serious song. It sounds a whole lot like a Switchfoot original, in fact. Similarly, when Foreman sings about how “the hole inside my heart is stupid deep,” the listener realizes Jon Bellion is being completely sincere when he sings these words. Switchfoot is probably not comprised of Chainsmokers and Bellion-heads, but these two songs work well in their hands.
The EP’s best song is “Swim Good,” originally by Frank Ocean. It’s the sonic place where Switchfoot steps the furthest outside its comfort zone. This is because the song rolls with an R&B groove. Switchfoot is a group of white boy surfers, not urban soul-sters, after all. Nevertheless, the group also throws in a noisy electric guitar solo onto it, just to remind us all this is still Switchfoot. This song’s lyrics conjure up many striking images. When Foreman confesses, “I’ve had this black suit on/Roaming around like I’m ready for a funeral,” it’s about as close to describing a dead man walking as any lyricist can get.
One lasting impression created by this set is that Switchfoot is a band comprised of really good listeners. Just as they know how to create memorable original songs, they also know a great song when they hear one. And it doesn’t matter the style of that song. Goodness comes in a wide variety of flavors. May we all be more Switchfoot-like in our music listening.