I’ve always considered Jon Foreman to be a prophet of sorts to the postmodern world. Ever since Switchfoot, his main musical venture, broke into the mainstream with “Meant to Live,” his songs have challenged us to consider the meaning of our existence here on earth, and our often futile chase after fleeting pleasures. Along with these themes, his songwriting has harbored an increasing focus on death, and seeking out true life in light of impending mortality. The lyrics of “Where I Belong” come to mind, from one of Switchfoot’s more recent albums, Vice Verses:
But I’m not sentimental This skin and bones is a rental And no one makes it out alive
Until I die I’ll sing these songs On the shores of Babylon Still looking for a home In a world where I belong
These themes of death and desire come to full fruition in Foreman’s latest solo EP Shadows, which is part of a four EP project called The Wonderlands, a set of twenty-four songs moving through Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn.
With only six songs, Shadows works surprisingly well as a small concept album. Its first song “Ghost Machine” begins with the lyrics,
All hail the siren of our time I’m possessed when she passes by She drains the best years of my life
The title alone could refer to several things: René Descartes’ phrase “ghost in the machine” explained his theory of mind-body dualism, the immaterial, spiritual mind interacting with the physical brain and body. The term has also been utilized technologically to refer to the idea that strange behavioral anomalies in machines may suggest some sort of sentience.
Foreman leans toward the latter in lines like, “My idolatry is in the pocket of my coat” and “I’m still haunted by the faces on her screen.” He seems to be talking about the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives, and all the allure that offers us, tempting us “to sprinkle the blood of most my life on the altars of” social media, pornography, etc.
He continues to dwell on this theme in the song “Good For Me,” which opens with Foreman asking:
Sometimes I wonder what I put in my soul I wonder if it’s good for me Sometimes I wonder if it’s taking its toll I wonder if it’s good for me Sometimes I wonder if it’s taking a hold I wonder if it’s good for me Sometimes I wonder if I’m losing control
Later in the song, the seductive siren reappears:
I was upside down I thought the floor was the ceiling And from my backwards view She looked just like the real thing
In contrast to the false love and artificiality expressed in these songs, the EP ends with “Siren’s Song,” which opens:
My love is at the edge Edge of the ocean She’s wrapped in green and blue My love is at the edge Edge of the ocean She sings to me a tune
This siren also comes across as perilous, but in a different way, more like the peril of giving yourself entirely in true love. The sea contrasts the machine. Nature contrasts technology. The sea can take life, yes, but also give life. The machine sucks you dry and leaves your shell (or ghost).
This brings me back to the theme of death, which as I said also weaves itself through the EP. “Ghost Machine” is followed by “My Coffin,” where Foreman ponders mortality, culminating with this chorus:
Resurrection comes But death comes first All our entitlements and rights drive the hearse Through maker’s death Death is unmade And when I lose myself I’m safe In my coffin
For Foreman, the escape from the seduction of false desires comes by dying to our entitlements and rights, in order to rise to new life. It’s the gospel in poetry.
This idea of death-as-life is played out even more in “Fake Your Own Death,” which poses the question, “What would you do with a second chance at life?”:
You could fake your own death And live it like you’ve always been afraid of living Fake your own death And come alive
The climax of the EP is the song, “Your Love Is Enough,” in which Foreman answers the question of how this new life can be found. He sings:
Who can satisfy these longings? Who could wash my doubts away? Who can save me from my follies? Even when the feelings fade? Your love is enough Your love is enough
Foreman’s words echo the ancient sentiment of St. Augustine from his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Or as Foreman sings,
Here in my maker’s arms I find my soul Here in my maker’s arms I’m finally home
The prodigal, wayward, regretful son of “Ghost Machine,” who prays “Father forgive me cause I know/How exactly I spread my soul,” now sings “I’m coming home.”
The EP ends with a reply, a call to come home. The siren-lover beckons:
Come to the sea Come and cross me We’ll reach the other side Come to the sea Come and take me And have me for your bride
Proving his brilliance as a songwriter once again, Jon Foreman takes us on a spiritual journey in just six songs, from false desire to true love, from roaming prodigal to home, from shadows back to light.