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Wishful thinking

Music | Collection of Switchfoot highlights leaves thirst for more

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

As far back as 1975, when Bachman-Turner Overdrive released The Best of B.T.O. (So Far), the appending of qualifiers to the titles of pop-music compilations has seemed dangerously presumptuous: The parenthetical "So Far" notwithstanding, B.T.O. never had another hit.

One hopes a similar reception does not await Switchfoot in the aftermath of the similarly titled The Best Yet (Columbia/Legacy), a new collection of highlights spanning the group's entire 11-year career. One reason for pessimism is that, in leaving Columbia to pursue independence, Switchfoot risks encountering the same relative obscurity to which most other top-selling acts that took the same route have been relegated. The bureaucratic structure of major labels is notorious for the many ways in which it can impede artistic creativity, but there's still nothing like corporate PR-not even internet-based networking-for bringing a band's music to the attention of the masses.

And, as the evidence contained in The Best Yet demonstrates, Switchfoot is too good to become a cult band just yet. Although the track list consists of one song from 1997's The Legend of Chin, two apiece from 1999's New Way to Be Human and 2000's Learning to Breathe, six from 2003's double-platinum The Beautiful Letdown, three apiece from 2005's Nothing Is Sound and 2006's Oh! Gravity, and "This Is Home" (the group's contribution to the soundtrack of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), the album coheres, as if being in the world but not of it were both easy and natural.

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Sometimes the naturalness seems too easy, as does the group's reliance on the basic elements of U2's sound not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival. Nothing, however, suggests the sort of inspiration shortage that makes the "Yet" in the title sound like (merely) wishful thinking.

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