Review Summary: Soothing, chill, and completely forgettable.
I'm a huge sucker for acoustic music. A song that is stripped down to its very core and still conveys an undeniable sense of raw musicality and emotion is easily one of the most impressive things a listener could possibly ask for, and this is one of many reasons why I include artists like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith among my all-time favorite musicians. The gentle melodies of the acoustic guitar, barely noticeable percussive noises of the pick contacting the strings, and typically subdued vocal contributions all make an acoustic song what it is. However, with such a simplified musical environment, it can be rather difficult to create original, consistent material. This can often push an artist past their breaking point, as it did with Drake and Smith, but the legacy these men leave behind is incomparable. Their music encompassed so many levels of the emotional spectrum with a great sense of musicality to boot. Where did this sense of musicality come from? The subtle yet noticeable variations in their music that separated them from their peers. The 2000's biggest acoustic artist, Jack Johnson, did little or nothing to separate himself from his peers, simply opting to become just another romantic with an acoustic guitar and a Hawaiian shirt, as proved on 2005's In Between Dreams.
One word sums up this album's musical content; bland. Nothing interesting ever happens, with basic progressions being played endlessly in copy-paste, watered-down song structures for 40 minutes straight. This music can be so mind-numbingly boring at times that when Johnson does something interesting (which happens maybe 3 times throughout the record), the listener won't even notice because they spaced out long ago. Not to say that this album is bad by any means, it's just horrifically samey and becomes extremely tired by track five. This just isn't an album I'll ever find myself wanting to listen to. Everything wrong with this album can be identified in hit single "Banana Pancakes". With a basic song structure, lazy chord structures and strumming, and Johnson's unique but eventually irritating croon, the song could initially be passed off as simply forgettable, but the lyrics turn what could have been an average song into a complete disaster. I'm halfway convinced that Johnson wrote the lyrics for this song solely so that the douche at your high school who knows 4 or 5 chords on the ukulele could get all the bitches and be voted Most Likely To Succeed in the yearbook. The lyrics are easily the worst part of this album, but any other redeeming quality of any song on here quickly becomes redundant as Johnson finds it appropriate to use the same structure on every track, making any interesting piece of songwriting stale and mind-numbing by the 3-minute mark (which, thanks to Johnson's cut-and-paste songwriting method, is around the time most songs come to a close).
This album reaches its lowest points when Johnson acts as though he is some sort of 1960s hippie preacher, attempting to criticize the very commercialized society that he has shamelessly become a part of ("Good People") or sending out stereotypical, unmoving anti-war messages ("Crying Shame".) Songs such as "Situations" and "If I Could" start out strong, with the latter jarring the listener with a blaring harmonica solo. However, this only lasts about 5 seconds before the track descends into mediocrity and a melody that an 8th grader could have written. Once again, none of these songs ever genuinely become "bad" (with the exception of Banana Pancakes) just overwhelmingly irritating and painfully average. The album's sole standout moment comes on "Breakdown" which opens with a ukulele progression that actually sounds like there was effort put into, and eventually settles into a groove by the verse, which features Johnson's most inspired vocal delivery on the record and a genuinely catchy chorus hook. Granted, the song becomes very repetitive, like all others on the record, but it's still a standout because it sounds like it was actually written by a professional. "Belle" is the other passable/good song here, an acoustic jam that falls just short of two minutes that both relaxes the mind and soothes the soul.
In Between Dreams is simply a cash cow. There is barely any heart or soul behind this record, save for a couple of tracks, and the songs can be so derivative and generic at times that they make the listener want to pull his or her hair out. However, the songwriting is passable besides the repetitiveness and Johnson's vocals can be enjoyable at times. The lyrics and song structure are what truly put myself off of this record, as they are subpar on literally every song. However, despite how hit-and-miss it can be, there's definitely at least one song here that somebody can enjoy. As an album though, it falls flat on its face.