Photo Credit: Erik Frost
An interrobang is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a punctuation mark designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” – in layman’s terms, it’s the combination of an exclamation point and a question mark. An interrobang, in many ways, feels like the collective response to the events of the last 18 months: what better captures the utter insanity of the 2020s so far than a mere “?!?!?!”. The interrobang at once captures the heady mixture of confusion and urgency that nearly all of us have felt at some point during the pandemic.
American rockers Switchfoot have spent much of their 25 year+ career grappling with the sort of angst represented through the interrobang; channeling it through a captivating blend of punk and Christian rock. However, even as the sound that made Switchfoot famous begins to creep back into the mainstream, Interrobang represents yet another sonic departure from that sound for the band; channeling more conventional, and commercially friendly, alternative rock.
At times, the California quintet (comprised of Jon and Tim Foreman, Chad Butler, Jerome Fontamillas, and Drew Shirley) risk falling into territory occupied by the likes of Nickelback and OneRepublic (see the catchy but impersonal “Lost Cause”). But ultimately, there’s just enough here to differentiate Switchfoot from their more mainstream contemporaries (see: a few near-screams on “Splinter” and, some left-field production choices on “Wolves”).
At its core, Interrobang feels designed to please and appease both old and new Switchfoot fans and, it’s likely to succeed in that attempt; it’s the band’s best amalgamation of all the styles and sounds they’ve experimented with over the last quarter-century. While not the most original sounding LP ever, Interrobang is comprised of relatively timeless arrangements and is filled with heart and hooks aplenty: no doubt making it a keeper for decades to come for Switchfoot fans.
The only area where Interrobang encounters major faults is in its lyricism; which can feel clichéd at times and just generally can fail to evoke the sort of visceral emotional response one hopes for from a Switchfoot song. Perhaps these faults are new, or at least worsened, on Interrobang, or maybe the new, less in-your-face sound of Switchfoot’s twelfth studio album simply puts the band’s lyricism in sharper focus. Regardless, lyrical clunkers like “the feeds that I read don’t feed me what I need” stand out like a sore thumb and, even when the lyricism isn’t actively cringe-inducing, it’s hard not to feel as though the band’s realizations about the state of the world are far more interesting and revolutionary to them than it is to listeners. For an example of this, look no further than opener “Beloved”; a cry against the modern technology age whose central motifs have been explored, and explored better, by countless bands before them.
“Beloved”, while admittedly home to some of the album’s least affecting and effective lyrics, is also home to some of the album’s best as well. Like with the rest of the album, the track’s best moments occur when the band zoom inwards and become introspective – rather than making sweeping judgments about the rest of the world. “And I still don’t think I’m wrong // To be so honest in these broken, longing songs” is one of the band’s best lyrics to date; simultaneously self-assured and withering; a brutally honest reflection capturing a beloved artist flailing in self-doubt before reassuring themselves that the emotional intensity poured into their music is ultimately not just justified, but necessary. Indeed, “necessary” feels like the most appropriate word to describe Interrobang; it may not rank at the top of the band’s lengthy discography, nor is it likely to gain the acclaim or fanfare of previous releases, but it is a deft album that plays to Switchfoot’s strengths, and is likely to please most fans and largely corrects the course from 2019’s misfire Native Tongue.