Rolling melodies and political undertones

Jack Johnson's voice, though eco-smooth, may stumble a bit.

John Sand

Everyone’s favorite eco-friendly surfer-turned-singer-songwriter Jack Johnson released his fourth solo album “Sleep Though the Static” earlier this week. And in an effort to remain “green,” the album was recorded using solely solar-powered analog tape machines in Hawaii and Los Angeles.

Though Johnson previously stated that this album would be a “darker-themed” departure from his earlier work, a first listen would suggest anything but. His music retains that lackadaisical, rolling rhythm and simple melodic charm that we’ve come to expect from Johnson time and again. Paired with his simple, pseudo-rhyming free-verse lyrics, the only obvious difference on the album is the occasional addition of a light piano melody.

Though the flowing music remains the same, there is an evident increase in the number of songs concerning political awareness (think “Times like These” or “Good People”). These songs end up being the weaker tracks on the album. More often than not, the lyrics toy with the line between comforting colloquial expressions and clichés.

The album’s opening track “All At Once” complains “There’s so many things that we’ve got/ But we’re too proud of” and “Sometimes it feels like a heart is nowhere to be singing from at all.”

Johnson has taken a few themes that carry too much weight for his floating tunes, and his lyrics often feel forced and vague.

In comparison, the silly love-inspired tunes (“Bubble Toes,” “Better Together,” etc.) are surprisingly sparse on this album, but these tracks are obviously when Johnson hits his stride. The upbeat tracks like “What You Thought You Needed” show Jack Johnson doing what he does best: rhyming about love. The lyrics hum: “We could park the van and walk to town/ Find the cheapest bottle of wine that we could find/ And talk about the road behind/ How getting lost is not a waste of time.”

Paired with a few stark musings of love, like “Angel,” and an exploration of his new role as a father in “Go On,” the listener is exposed to the effortless minimalism of true emotion.

It is the softness of Johnson’s attitude and his light-hearted singing-in-the-rain wordplay that continues to draw the listener back for another listen.

Jack Johnson has never claimed to be an experimental musician or cutting edge artist. As he clearly stated on his own Web site; “All of these songs have been on my mind for a while, and it is nice to share them.” It is this clear simplicity and honesty that continues to set Johnson apart from the lip-syncing Ashlee Simpsons of the world, who so often assert their alleged originality by “experimenting” with new ways to digitally enhance their voices.

When we strip away the analysis of sloping melodies, conversational lyrics and supposed “darkness,” we find a single truth: If you are already a Jack Johnson fan (and you probably are), chances are that you’ll enjoy this album, too.