Tuesday, May 5, 2009

FootColumn #3: Part 2 in an analysis of past singles and what that could mean for this new album

In the last segment, we explored the success of “The Beautiful Letdown” in-depth, analyzing the multi-format chart runs of Switchfoot’s biggest singles to date, “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move.” In this section, we’ll analyze what went right and wrong for the follow-up record, “Nothing Is Sound.”

“Nothing Is Sound” was a brilliant album (and in my opinion, Switchfoot’s greatest work), that was tragically marred by two main factors:

The Copy Protection fiasco
Lack of proper singles decisions

Initially, Switchfoot had shot a music video for their possible lead single, “Happy Is a Yuppie Word.” It was beautifully shot, and the haunting images provide delicious eye-candy for the beholder. But for whatever reason, the video failed to inspire label executives enough to release the song as a single. I suppose the somewhat depressing mood of the lyrics, as well as the song’s overall downbeat nature wasn’t going to hit well at radio, nor would it attract the kind of first-week sales Sony would want to cop after the double-platinum success of “The Beautiful Letdown.” So instead, a new video was shot for the incredibly accessible “Stars,” which became the new lead single for the album.

"Stars" first began charting during the week of July 15, 2005, which put it just about two months before "Nothing Is Sound" came out. The reception at first was solid, with the single peaking at No. 16 on Modern Rock, No. 37 on Top 40, and No. 68 on the Hot 100, but it dropped off soon after that, adding to a wave of bad publicity brought on by the Sony-mandated copy protection discs the album was printed on. At this point, the general public’s view of Switchfoot had probably soured, not only because they couldn’t get the songs onto their iPod, but also because the album overall was significantly darker than “The Beautiful Letdown” and the teenybopper fans had begun to move on to the next “flavor of the week.”

In an attempt to “rescue” the album, Columbia released the pop anthem “We Are One Tonight,” the most “un-rock” song on the album, as a single. This can be seen as an attempt to win back the Top 40 crowd with an infectious sing-along, but whatever the reason, Modern Rock rejected “We Are One Tonight” and so did the video channels. This can be attributed to the lack of real motivation on the part of the label, but there are some other factors involved here.

As we have seen up to this point, Switchfoot’s primary calling-card is that they are a rock band. Columbia/Sony failed to at least build a rock “foundation” for the single. And as we will see when we examine the next few singles, this method simply doesn’t work. Switchfoot isn’t a Top 40-sounding band. Marketing them specifically as such is NOT going to work; it didn’t work in the case of “We Are One Tonight,” and it won’t work for future releases unless Switchfoot goes hip-hop on us. And that, we have been assured, will not be the case.

Despite selling 100,000+ copies in its first week, and being certified Gold within a month of shelf time, “Nothing Is Sound’s” further success was marred by a promotional nightmare on the part of the same label, Columbia/Sony, that brought Switchfoot into double-platinum success, just one album before. In the next segment, we’ll examine the situation that surrounded “Oh! Gravity.” and Switchfoot’s decision to go leave the major label scene and strike out on their own as an independent band.


Anonymous said...

Good column. I agree for the most part, especially with the WAOT failure. That and Golden, the two poppiest songs on NIS are my least favorite on that otherwise great album. If they wanted a mainstream radio song, they could've gone with The Blues or something along those lines.

Oh, and you've "GOT" to stop using so many quote marks! ;)

Job said...


Thanks! I think something different would've set up Switchfoot for a longer chart run than the "hits." <-- hehe, quote marks. ;)

I did notice that. I'll try to tone down a bit next time. =)