here is little doubt that Jack Johnson has become a sonic caricature of his laid-back self. The release of his latest effort, the let’s-all-be-happy-and-chill album To The Sea, makes it clear that the singer/songwriter understands that Jack Johnson (the brand) needs to continually pump out new product regardless of whether Jack Johnson (the artist) is truly providing anything new and provocative to his customer base. To be sure, at this point in time, he isn’t.
Much in the way that throughout the 1990s actor Pauly Shore made only one kind of movie, Johnson is clearly content with churning out albums through his sunbeam machine that have begun to elicit the same eye-rolling, resigned response from many people outside of his specific, albeit large, core fan-base. No unexpected left-turns with pleasingly impactful results, no change of easy-breezy direction.
Johnson satisfies his core demographic, and as usual he demonstrates a clear, likeable knack for guitar-driven pop, even while the tunes are as innocuous as they are catchy. The thing is, much can be said when an artist presents a consistent signature sound that reliably challenges and intrigues the listener. The National’s latest release, High Violet, is an apt example—the band didn’t make any drastic alterations to the sound that was represented on their stellar 2008 record, The Boxer, but neither did they settle for static complacency over the deeper, emotional exploration that continued their ability to dazzle.
Take a flimsy, plastic toy shovel from the Target dollar section and dig a half-inch below the surface of the grainy, hot sand that this album frolics in, and what you’ll find is little more than a broken seashell that might have been a substantial keepsake, had it not been cracked from being so flinty-thin. What good is the partial shell when its pastel prettiness can’t be employed to mend the fracture, in order to create something complete?
Johnson has been vocal about how this album displays his decision to include songs that are specifically about the ocean, as he has purposely steered-clear of the topic in his past offerings. Given that Johnson has always excelled at bright, poppy and swaying arrangements, the vibe of the ocean has been rather evident, regardless of whether a song was directly referring to the ocean, or not.
Again, it’s hard to blame Johnson for attempting to market this latest assembly-line product as something fresh and new, but happy go-lucky tunes like “Turn Your Love” and “You and Your Heart” are clear examples that all isn’t new, and is in fact, rather rehashed.