Truthfully, if you’ve heard one Jack Johnson album, you’ve heard them all. The Hawaiian singer/songwriter/director/surfer came onto the scene a decade ago with softly strummed meditations on life and love, and he hasn’t changed his style much since. And why should he? Without the benefit of a major radio single and with a fairly low press profile (read: no scandals), Jack has become one of the most consistent selling musicians of this era.
I can’t speak for his entire audience, but I’d like to think that most of the fans like him because of his simplicity and lack of pretense. Jack doesn’t aspire to high art like a Radiohead or a Kanye or even a GaGa. Dude just wants to play his guitar and sing. That simple and direct approach to music is a breath of fresh air, and it results in manna for people who just want to kick back and enjoy simple background music for life’s daily activities, whether an afternoon cleaning house or a late night weekend barbecue.
When you first start playing “To the Sea”, Johnson’s fifth studio album (not counting the Jack-dominated soundtrack to “Curious George”), it might seem as though Jack is trying to throw curveballs at you. Perhaps it’s a conscious reaction to the overtly inward-sounding feel of Jack’s last album “Sleep Through the Static” (which should have been titled “Sleep Through This Album”), but the first couple of songs on “To the Sea” are downright raucous by Jack Johnson standards. Not to say Jack has suddenly gone all aggro on us, but there’s a more meaty sound to first single “You & Your Heart”, and the crunchy “At or with Me”. Hell, the title track even contains a fairly unhinged (again, by Jack Johnson standards) guitar solo. However, things very quickly calm down and the remainder of the album contains agreeable jams like the head-bobbing “Pictures of People Taking Pictures”. Jack’s familiar acoustic balladry is still around as well, thanks to songs like the tender “My Little Girl” and the somewhat melancholy “Anything but the Truth”.
In the end, everything’s the same as it ever was in Jack’s corner of the world. His plainspoken meditations on matters of the heart and life in general have helped to win him a devoted following, and it probably wouldn’t be in Jack’s best interests to try and reinvent the wheel. If you’re not already a Jack Johnson fan, don’t expect “To the Sea” to suddenly make you switch teams, but people who are already fans of Johnson’s signature sound will find “To the Sea” as inviting as comfortable as their favorite pair of flip-flops.