Philosophy (on the) 101: Switchfoot puts the “car” in Descartes.

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Banging your head to the radio in your car is not exactly a congruent experience with studying philosophy, but Switchfoot seems to think differently. While the FM mainstay’s counterparts encourage you to “go home and get stoned” (thanks, Hinder), Switchfoot, whose career is rapidly passing the decade mark, tosses a good amount of university-level subject matter around its radio-ready pop songs, drawing lyrical influence from the likes of Søren Kierkegaard, T.S. Eliot, and, on this album’s “Faust, Midas and Myself,” the story of the world’s most famously fated alchemist. Singer and guitarist Jon Foreman doesn’t stop at classy influences, though; the frontman questions the repetitive nature of human life on “Circles,” reprimands our tendency to rely on machines over ourselves on “Dirty Second Hands,” and chastises the stereotypical American dream on, um, “American Dream.” “When success is equated with excess/The ambition for excess wrecks us,” he howls, icing Switchfoot’s refined pop-rock sound with sparklingly clean production and a hint of ’80s fever that’s probably more a reflection of the musicians’ youthful memories than an attempt to sound fashionably retro. Much of the rousing, catchy album’s lyrical content is as didactic as those lyrics—although generally not in the Bible-school sense that these born-again Christians are often mistaken for employing—but ultimately Foreman and his bandmates back up their perfectly produced and neatly played songs with universal queries that any listener, pagan or otherwise, can appreciate. It is either a successful attempt to relate religious teachings to everyday life or a devious method of evangelizing the unknowing masses, but who cares when it’s this hard to get the melodies out of your head? Switchfoot never quite replicates the anthemic magnitude of prior dashboard-dominators such as “Dare You to Move” and “Meant to Live” here, but Oh! Gravity. is a solid, old-fashioned album, with each track cleanly following its predecessor—perhaps a greater accomplishment than a scattering of standout singles. Foreman sighs that “the future is a question mark” on “Burn Out Bright,” but the only real question seems to be whether he aced whatever philosophy class has inspired these lyrics or was just looking up “existentialism” on Wikipedia.