Review Summary: Where he has currently been all these years
At this point, thinking of Jack Johnson’s musical career brings this allegory to mind: The skies are dark and tumultuous; the earth shakes whilst the unyielding steaming-hot spew that is the Kīlauea Volcano finally reaches its peak of explosion – well over twenty-seven years in the making – destroying the property of residents and the wildlife habits of Johnson’s own native system of islands, Hawaii. Out in a rowboat, seemingly oblivious to the overarching and breaking waves all around him, is Johnson himself, humming a ditty and penning the next entry to his sunny-eyed library of beach-bum, laid-back anthems. While amidst the chaos of the islands, all of the residents back on the shore are yelling at the songwriter to come back to land and help them out in any way he can. But Johnson’s lost in his own mythical world. He’s been in there for nine years now.
Now don’t get me wrong; the Hawaii-born singer-songwriter, filmmaker, surfer, do-it–all has had his fair share of troubles in his life, as he lost his chance at a professional surfing career because of a traumatic head injury early on, and even recently lost his father in death last year. But it’s just that Johnson has always, always
been the one to look at the brighter side of things, even to the very point of boredom for listeners, being tagged as a less abrasive and preachy Ben Harper and appealing to the college bums everywhere with his restrained and portion-controlled Top-40s swoonings. Lucky he gets new recruits to his camp with each academic year, though, as his formula long ago became quite stale once 2003’s sixteen-runner On and On
ran its course. He’s a stubborn beach bopper, certainly, and despite adding electric guitars here and there, more reliance on Hawaiian grooves, and even a jam-band element to this year’s To the Sea
, Johnson’s music still can’t help but feel the same every time.
“You and Your Heart” is designed to deceive early on for what lies in wait for the remainder of To the Sea
. The track is a rockin’ steamroller of Top-40 proportions, as catchy as it is destructive, and injects a little flair into the laid-back persona of Johnson that we’ve all come to expect from the singer-songwriter. And then… it’s gone – the flair
, that is. Johnson unfortunately takes the route that he took with the middle sections of second album On and On
and 2008’s Sleep Through The Static
, resting on his laurels and offering just enough for the fans to be happy, all the while giving sufficient grounds for critics to scoff and sign his name away with contempt. The water is stirred a little once “At or With Me” comes around, though, Johnson bringing a lively jammy-piano rock layout to the song that grabs attention, if not keeping it all that long with laughably bad lines like “you can’t trust anyone in this town / oh baby those are such great shoes
.” Come on now, really
In relation to his lyrics, Johnson has always been a bit safe in what subjects he decides to tackle with his albums. You can almost always expect songs about love, fatherhood, and the occasional wildlife awareness fit and the like. Here on To the Sea
it’s really no different, and this is a real shame, too, as the songwriter has obviously made strides to at least switch up his instrumental happenings running through the course of his work. What was bare, honest
acoustic simplicity on 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales
is now more lively with beats and piano tinkerings on To the Sea
, baring early career recalls such as “My Little Girl” and “Turn Your Love”. However, despite such changes, Johnson still
remains fundamentally the same in both the feel and the mood that his music gives off. His stubbornness to possibly cry a little every now and then and at least inject some shelf-life into his music has made everything he’s done thus far solely surface-worthy and easily forgettable.
Coming near the end of To the Sea
, Johnson confesses to another over bare acoustics that “I can tell you anything but the truth
." When I first heard the line, it really hit a note with me, as the lyric really grabs at the gist of what Johnson operates around here on this album, as well as those that came before it. It’s the welcome mat of his niche
that he’s built over the years, a type of content-ness in the face of adversities where he is always looking at the extreme positive side of things, even if it often-times may seem blindsided, irrelevant, trite, and, by this particular artist, done to death. Johnson’s certainly not one to disappoint his fans, though, but neither is he one to amaze anyone else outside his camp. With To the Sea
, he’s just out in his boat again, with the chaos all around him, singing as if all is well once more, but all the while seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's really starting to get old.