Jack Johnson’s ‘To the Sea’ Review
Hawaiian-born troubadour Jack Johnson has elevated beachcomber soft rock to its platonic ideal. Thereâ€™s not a coconut hair out of place on his new album, â€œTo the Sea,â€ which is pleasingly packaged in all recycled papers. The micro-genre chill-wave has been ascribed to such bands as Texasâ€™ Neon Indian and Chazwick Bundickâ€™s solo project Toro Y Moi, but it sounds like something that Johnson should be conveying with his smoothie jams.
At this point in Johnsonâ€™s career, on his fifth studio album, a listener might expect some twists in the formula, but Johnson isnâ€™t interested in risk. Time and again, his choices are predictable, but itâ€™s comforting and hard not to like in its gently strummed affability. His music is on permanent vacation â€” it should be pumped into cardiac clinics across America, lowering the blood pressure of harried patients.
Johnson is at his most schmaltzy when he grasps for profundity and misses, like on the song â€œPictures of People Taking Pictures,â€ which repeats its title, a clichÃ©d kernel of meta-commentary, over and over again in an unimaginative attempt to scare up some awe. Heâ€™s better off working in watery paternal mode, like when he comforts a friend â€” â€œstop upsetting yourself, upsetting your thoughtsâ€ â€” over a wiry calypso beat and guitar work that darkens and then brightens again. Itâ€™s the most genuine sentiment on a record from a simple but ambitious man whose real-life philanthropic and environmentally sound practices aim to sooth the world, one bro or surfer girl at a time.