Those were my thoughts upon hearing the first single, “If I Had Eyes”, from Jack Johnson’s newly released “Sleep Through the Static.”
I had waited nearly two years for new music from Johnson. His last release, the brilliant “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies” from the Curious George movie, left me begging for more.
While recording “Sing-A-Longs”, Jack informed his fans that he would be taking a couple years off to hang out with his kids and do some environmental stuff. Though I was bummed about the wait, I admired Jack for focusing on fatherhood, and I figured the time off might inspire a stellar return to the studio.
Boy, was I wrong.
And I shouldn’t be surprised. Every artist has his growing pains. “Static” is clearly Jack Johnson’s mid-career crisis album.
And I should have seen it coming. Jack’s previous albums, “Sing-A-Long” and “In Between Dreams” were preluded by months of interviews, behind-the-scenes videos, and preview performances. I tabbed out the ukulele part of “Wrong Turn” weeks before “Sing-A-Longs” hit store shelves.
“Static” enjoyed no such hype. No preview performances or radio interviews- just a mention here and there about Jack’s solar-powered studio or his environmental activism. Oh- and by the way, he’s releasing an album in February.
These days the Web is everything. But when the album dropped Tuesday, Jack’s website looked like it hadn’t been updated since “Sing-A-Longs” and his web forums were still not up since going down “for maintenance” December. An interesting way to market a new album.
Well, it turns out there isn’t much here to market or hype. “Static” retains Jack’s signature mellow sound, but he’s ditched the radio-friendly riffs and hooks that skyrocketed him into surf rock fame in favor of structureless, melancholy dribble.
I can’t criticize the production, the instrumentation, the lyrics, or Jack’s voice. It’s just that the whole seems much less than the sum of its parts.
Don’t get me wrong- I’ve been a Jack Johnson fanatic from the early days when he was a college kid writing campfire songs for the beach. I get Jack Johnson. But as much as I love the guy, I can’t sugarcoat my disappointment with this album.
“In Between Dreams” was great because it was fresh and lyrically exciting. Songs like “No Other Way” and “Breakdown” blow me away every time I hear them. “Sing-A-Longs” was great primarily because it was a soundtrack. Jack’s unmatched knack for pairing simple music with emotional imagery is what launched his musical career. Curious George doesn’t speak and Jack’s job in that film was to provide his voice through the music. The attention to mood and instrumentation on that record is stunning.
“Static” sounds as if Jack threw it together in a few hours on a really stormy day. Gone are the playful cynicism and the upbeat introspection. Every song on the record sounds like a Wal-Mart “bonus track”- you know, the B-side, so-so songs that record label throws in for free when you purchase an album there. By the end of the album you feel like you’ve listened to the same song 14 times.
Music industry spotlight articles tried their best to up-play the album prior to its release by raving about Jack’s maturing lyrical sensibilities and world-weary savvy. But “mature” lyrics don’t necessarily mean good music. In his defense, he did write this album amidst political upheaval and the death of a friend. But to be brutally honest, Jack could be singing Microsoft technical documentation and I don’t think I’d notice a difference here.
I’m sure, like many other albums, “Static” will grow on me. Despite my frustration with this album, Jack retains his spot in the Holy Trinity of my life’s soundtrack (flanked on both sides by U2’s Bono and Alison Krauss). But here’s to wishing Jack will step off his soapbox and back onto the beach.