My playlist goes through drastic changes come summer. That’s because I need to hear music that reflects the radiant, laid-back nature of the season. For the past, oh, eight years, Jack Johnson has provided the summer soundtrack for myself and many others. As solo artists go, he’s one of the most universally liked artists since James Taylor. I include myself among the throng.
Johnson — as seen in reviews for his new album, To The Sea — is often criticized for being too simple, his messages, too redundant. No one ever confused Johnson for a guitar virtuoso and his songwriting borders on silly at times, but that’s why I like him. Johnson is nothing if not sincere, bells and whistles be damned.
It’s important to note the major growth on his latest album. Go back to 2003, where Johnson’s sophomore album On And On featured 12 songs (among 16) that clocked in at three minutes or less. On To The Sea, Johnson’s uses more space to include guitar solos and extended intros. Eleven of the 14 tracks on this album surpass the three-minute mark. And while I realize this statistic is completely arbitrary, I think it shows Johnson’s growth as a musician and songwriter. He’s making better use of the canvas, becoming more aware of space.
Is Jack Johnson a simpleton? Hell yes, and that’s all the appeal. For some musical zealots, quality is measured by complexity. How many elements can you pull into song to create a cohesive, yet distinguished sound? That brilliance is reserved for acts like Radiohead, Rush and U2, among others. Johnson doesn’t seek complexity for complexity’s sake. His sound is basic, naked and welcoming. No one needs an instruction manual to listen to it.
This leads me to my next point: Jack Johnson is the most accessible artist of our generation. What does that mean? He’s completely comfortable as a pro surfer-turned-musician, a husband, a father, a friend, a guy who’s at peace as long as he can regularly get his bare feet in the sand. His music isn’t about understanding these facets of his life, but rather celebrating them. He manages to be abundantly happy without being obnoxious — a true juggling act in pop music. For this reason, we feel we know Johnson. He’s got no interest in being mysterious.
I save the dark, introspective tunes for the cold season. Jack Johnson has the score for my summer because he sounds like a fire on the beach at sunset, surrounded by good friends, good drink and good music. It’s as simple as that.