I apologize in advance to long time fans of Jack Johnson. He just seems so airheaded. Life is all about roses and pretty colors, man. You get the impression that all Jack Johnson thinks about is love, his wife, pretty walks through the woods, and surfing. This is all fine and super, but it is not exactly what we call reality. In reality, pain is present. In reality, we struggle and we suffer and we find success through the toughest and most frustrating and overwhelming of courses. We find that our adventuring surfing in Australia is only attained after years of decadent self-discovery. Jack Johnson gives the impression that he was born with a guitar in his hand, and life is just trippy and fun and totally awesome. If his 15 years of making soft folk/pop balladry wasn’t enough of an indication, then you just don’t care enough.
From Here to Now to You is the latest product from Jack Johnson. It does the same thing he has done since his debut Brushfire Fairytales, and his mainstream breakthrough In Between Dreams. Jack Johnson is the safest artist in the music industry. He writes narrative-driven folk/pop love songs, and he does it so seriously (ignoring Banana Pancakes). Life is just a fun little adventure, so let’s pull out our banjos and surfboards and have a blast.
I enjoy a good dumb pop song. I like the fact that is is floaty and spacey and allows me to turn off my brain and just enjoy the rarely quirky and often by-the-books little hook. Jack Johnson certainly seems primed for a good melody, as he proves in Shot Reverse Shot and the comically soft-manneredDon’t Believe a Thing I Say.
But sometimes, I demand more from music. Johnson is probably sincere. He probably just enjoys playing music to people, and people liking its harmless attributes, non-demanding sound, and ‘turn off your brain and just sit on the beach and listen, man’ attitude. But I expect more from a musician, sometimes, especially over the course of six albums. Hell, maybe it is just my own expectations. Some people can make music and not make a big deal about the world while doing so. Sure, but it doesn’t make the music smart or good- it just seems transparently dumb. You Remind Me of You is so saccharine sweet, it even adds that ‘boowobadoo‘ following lyrics of, surprise, love from a mother. Radiate has a hook that, literally, just repeats ‘Radiate’ seven times and goes on its way. Thankfully, it is only three minutes (like every song on the album, which is, non-coincidentally, the perfect pop song formula length).
Jack Johnson is singing about a reality I do not understand. He is singing to fans which don’t like to think, or want to escape thinking. There is room for this type of non-demanding trivial music. But there is also a way to make this type of music without being so non-confrontational and sleepy doing it.You can make silly folk pop and do it with a backbone, however slight.
When I listen to Jack Johnson, I can not relate. I can not relate to the upbeat natures and wonders of the world, ignoring the grim underbelly and despair. Perhaps I like my music chockful of self-reflective angst. Perhaps I am just a cranky dweeb. Perhaps I am missing the point. Which begs the question, maybe it isn’t him- maybe it’s ME?