Jack Johnson quietly turned into a star over the course of the 2000s, so it’s only fitting that he inaugurates the second decade of his recording career with To the Sea, an album that feels like the work of a soft rock superstar. Of course, that’s what Johnson is, but he’s avoided sounding that way by performing soft-shuffle acoustic numbers, camouflaging his pop move as a soundtrack to Curious George, then getting mellowly introspective on 2008’s Sleep Through the Static. To the Sea blows away the drowsy cobwebs from Sleep, pushing the acoustic guitar to the background and letting his band groove politely, usually in an amiable, unhurried gait that never breaks a sweat even when the musicians goose the tempo a bit.
Jack Johnson, Hawaii's only surf-folk superstar, is refreshingly realistic about his standing in the pop scheme of things. Let the likes of Radiohead innovate, he said recently; he's more comfortable playing blithe soft rock that will never change the world. "Stop upsetting yourself," he advises a friend on The Upsetter, using lilting guitar and lightly applied percussion to ease everyone back to sleep.
Here’s another set of strummy beachside ballads from the most successful surf bum in history. Like 2008’s Sleep Through the Static, To the Sea has some introspective moments. (”Pictures of People Taking Pictures”? Deep, dude.) Mostly, though, Jack Johnson stays in the shallow end. ”Aw, baby, those are such great shoes,” he sings on ”At or With Me.” Wait, what does he know about shoes? B Download These:Melodica-equipped No Good With Faces at amazon.comFrom the Clouds, a funky rocksteady jam at amazon.com See all of this week’s reviews .
What’s not apparent from these songs is just how brilliant a man their maker is. Mike Diver 2010 Nice guys finish… first, in the case of Jack Johnson. The surfer, filmmaker and middle-of-the-road acoustic songwriter has never pushed any creative envelopes with his pleasantly forgettable fare, yet his last two albums were UK number ones. Neither Sleep Through the Static (2008) nor In Between Dreams (2005) received much in the way of praise from the music press, but Johnson is in the same mould as Katie Melua: a musician whose fortunes appear impervious to negative reviews, rendering opinions expressed in pieces such as this absolutely irrelevant.