Jack Johnson - To the Sea
Record Label: Brushfire
Release Date: June 1, 2010
With his slow-but-steady rise to household-name status, Jack Johnson's popularity is one of those things that I never really got personally, but can understand the appeal he holds for other people. I have one of those picture-a-day "Islands" calendars on my desk, so I get the whole wishful-thinking and vicarious-living thing you can get toward those lucky souls who get to spend their lives standing in sand peering out over the ocean. And in some way, I suppose he speaks to certain aimlessly wayfaring individuals, a sort of Stephen Malkmus for the non-audiophile. Too bad his strummy and often languorous tunes sound mostly the same and offer little more than reasons to hate those "yeahhh, Jack Johnson, maaan" dopes even more.
This might make me seem predisposed to be less than favorable toward Johnson's new album To the Sea right off the bat, but that's not entirely the case. It's still very much a Jack Johnson album and probably won't hurt his standing with diehard fans, but to those with tepid feelings toward him, more than a few moments will seem to bring his previously monochromatic sound into widescreen HD. The first single and the album's opener "You and Your Heart" is a perfect example of this; it seems to reflect a realization that Johnson's lilting semi-hooky melodies and bland acoustic picking aren't enough to carry yet another set of songs. The ringing riffs and fuller, fleshed-out sound provide some much needed energy. Likewise, "At or With Me" and "From the Clouds" are Johnson at his most lively. For a guy typically known for being so laid-back, he rarely let his figurative hair down in the past, so it's enjoyable to hear him abandon his lazy head-nodders for some full-on grooves.
Still, the old Jack still shines through most of the album. At their cores, these songs aren't much different than anything he's ever done; light fare set to the usual easygoing melodies are still the norm. Johnson's voice still evokes that chilled-out vibe that suggests that a life of sun and surf renders one immune to life's troubles, though this makes a more "serious" tune like "My Little Girl" sound a little disingenuous. When he sings platitudes like, "The best I can do is try to show you how to love with no fear," his perpetually unruffled persona can't quite sell it. It's as though his aim is little more than making thirtysomething moms and dads say "awwww." But that's what populist icons do-- and if nothing else, Jack Johnson is definitely one of those.
Not Ben's best album (IMO Fight for Your Mind) but still, Diamonds is a great album.
With Ben's discs, it's all about who you ask. Tons of people say his latest is his best. But I prefer Diamonds. My brother loves The Will to Live, and I can't get into it. And I don't love FIght For Your Mind, but I certainly respect it. Bottom line is the dude makes good albums, haha. Jack Johnson doesn't.