Review : Jack Johnson - To The Sea
EwHere's another set of strummy beachside ballads from the most successful surf bum in history. Like 2008's Sleep Through the Static, To the Sea has some introspective moments. (''Pictures of People Taking Pictures''? Deep, dude.) Mostly, though, Jack Johnson stays in the shallow end. ''Aw, baby, those are such great shoes,'' he sings on ''At or With Me.'' Wait, what does he know about shoes? B...full text
RollingstoneJack Johnson's sun-kissed acoustic-guitar melodies, stoner-dude tenor and unfailingly positive vibrations are like a fresh piña colada with a paper umbrella: You've experienced this before, it's a little corny, but it's pretty much impossible to hate. His defining moment could be his excellent cover of the White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends" on his kid-flick soundtrack Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies, from the movie Curious George – he defused the sexual tension and edge of the original version, but in its place was a boatload of playground-mack charm, which made everything OK. (The positive vibes have been matched in his personal life: He's a quiet activist who records albums in solar-powered studios and often gives his touring profits to charity.)
The challenge for the Hawaiian soft-rocker has been making grown-up music, for life when you get home from the beach. He took his first crack on 2008's Sleep Through the Static, but the themes of war, fear, hatred and sorrow felt incongruous and unconvincing. On To the Sea, the 35-year-old surfer and filmmaker is still staring down adult fears. But this time he has made an existential chill-out record that feels substantial, at times even edgy, without feeling forced.
"You and Your Heart" opens the set with a funky, strummy acoustic-guitar riff, adding pieces one by one: a guitar line that's more jagged and electric than what we expect from Johnson; a lightly propulsive drum groove; some midrange piano punctuation; and then Johnson, singing to a hater he hopes to convert to a lover. On "No Good With Faces," singing over a forlorn melodica, he seems at the brink of despondency, "lost" and "too tired to try," yet he pulls himself out on the chorus. Both manage a new emotional depth for Johnson, but are as singalongy as his Curious George jams. Ditto "At or With Me," which relieves a bout of paranoia with a gnarly eight-bar guitar solo and periodic exclamations of "Ah, baby, those are such great shoes!"
"From the Clouds," the set's standout, may be the quintessential Jack Johnson song. Dry electric-guitar chords circle a loose drum pattern; then a bass line and staccato piano come in old-school Jamaican rock-steady style, and Johnson beckons some "pretty thing" to join him up in the stratosphere, where they can safely watch a fucked-up world, cultivating their love, playing "double solitaire." The groove is delicious; if Johnson ever poached Trey Anastasio, he'd have the most tuneful jam band on the planet....full text
BbcNice guys finish… first, in the case of Jack Johnson. The surfer, filmmaker and middle-of-the-road acoustic songwriter has never pushed any creative envelopes with his pleasantly forgettable fare, yet his last two albums were UK number ones. Neither Sleep Through the Static (2008) nor In Between Dreams (2005) received much in the way of praise from the music press, but Johnson is in the same mould as Katie Melua: a musician whose fortunes appear impervious to negative reviews, rendering opinions expressed in pieces such as this absolutely irrelevant.
Indeed, such is the armour plating surrounding Johnson’s material that one wonders, while one writes, what the point is of even penning a review that won’t influence a potential buyer’s decision. The conclusion: to be objective, to relay the globally significant background of To the Sea and what’s to follow. That the album follows in the sonic footsteps of what’s come before should go without saying (whoops), and that it’s as challenging as committing a felony in a Grand Theft Auto video game (not very) is another needless statement of abject obviousness. But what’s not apparent from these songs is just how brilliant a man their maker is.
Not musically, you understand. Jack Johnson realises his strengths, limited as they are, and plays to them. Should he ever stretch himself as a musician the results could be fascinating – think The Beach Boys before Pet Sounds, and what they felt capable of afterwards – but right now he’s operating in a comfort zone that should guarantee continued commercial success. But here’s where the brilliant bit comes in: he doesn’t need the money. All profits from touring this record, all around the world, are to go to charities supporting the environment and the arts. He will strive to offset all carbon emissions. He even recorded this in two solar-powered studios. The music might be lightweight, but Johnson is a man on a serious mission, and should be applauded accordingly....full text
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