Jack Johnson brings beachside pop back into style

September 20, 2013

Back in 1985, 10-year-old Jack Johnson was the youngest listed contestant in Pipeline, one of Hawaii’s most prestigious surfing competitions. I think I speak for many music fans when I say: thank God Johnson discovered the guitar at age 14. Six studio albums later, Johnson is the reigning king of smooth, beachside pop and rock.

In his new record, “From Here to Now to You,” Johnson moves away from the darker, more electric sound of his past two albums (“Sleep Through the Static” and “To the Sea”) and back to the ultra-laid-back vibe of his initial three efforts. The result, with the help of former Beastie Boys producer Mario Caldato, is beautiful. Johnson’s acoustic beach vibes are back in a big way.

The sound, however, is bigger than that of albums past, with more recorded space and instrumentation. Johnson thus refreshingly proves that that although the album is, in a sense, a throwback, he is without a doubt progressing as an artist.

A trademark of Johnson’s is his uncanny ability to write what he knows. His focus on family and love is stunningly apparent in tracks strewn with themes of household activities and community self, evident in even the titles “Washing Dishes” and “Home.” He dips into his high school punk band past by way of lyrics in “Shot Reverse Shot,” juxtaposing his own childhood and those of his three children, tying the tracks together seamlessly. Although Johnson’s focus is his own experience, he seems to work equally as hard to maintain a down-to-earth feel, which is undoubtedly relevant to almost all listeners.

The first single off the new album, “I Got You,” is simple and sweet, with a repetitive chorus that Johnson succeeds in making work where most other artists would fail. The lyrics are campy, but the laid-back tone of Johnson’s voice is perfection, and thus the song is saved. His inflection is so unassuming and honest that the over-simplicity of the lyrics does not matter. The three-minute song seems much shorter than it is, leaving listeners wanting more, and ends on a sweet, positive note.

“From Here to Now to You” is fairly diverse within the narrow spectrum of Johnson’s sound, giving the album more depth than initially evident. Some songs, including “Ones and Zeros” and “Never Fade,” are string pieces overlaid with simple melodies. Others are catchy pop and rock songs with good beats and fun lyrics that will get stuck in listeners’ heads, chiefly, “Shot Reverse Shot” and “Radiate.” “Don’t Believe a Thing I Say” and resonant ballad “Change” are pure love songs, rich with light and emotion. “Tape Deck” has a drawling, lazy “Banana Pancakes” feel, perfect for a relaxed day at the beach, and it is a sound Johnson has perfected.

Only one song falls particularly flat. “You Remind Me of You” is too expected, and the lyrics are too campy and boring to be saved by Johnson’s charm. Where “I Got You” succeeds, “You Remind Me of You” fails.

Overall, “From Here to Now to You” is a strong album with many good songs, and a very satisfying overall theme and aura. Jack Johnson fans will flock to the new record, and the single “I Got You” has the potential to become the new “Better Together.” This album will not result in an influx of new fans, only because Johnson is so true to himself. He makes the music he likes to listen to. Therefore, if listeners like Johnson, they will like his new album, if they do not, one should assume that Johnson is fine with this.

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