Hawaiian surfer, turned film-maker, turned songwriter Jack Johnson has over the course of the last seven years developed his own specific, mellow, laid-back style. Many critics have had trouble wrapping their hands around what Johnson is trying to do. Too many of them cluelessly try to compare him to Jimmy Buffett simply because they are both barefooted, relaxed guys associated with warm locales. Though there’s evidence both men have mutual admiration for each other it seems unimaginable that Jack Johnson will ever be caught singing about his “lost shaker of salt.” He has bigger concerns. Mainly he has been focusing more on environmental issues and concepts of peace and love.
Johnson also receives unfair amounts of flack for being too relaxed in his tone. Snobby rock critics often dismiss him as some sort of hippie-dippy surfer-dude who is not to be taken seriously because he never rocks out. Forgive the man for having a distinct style! The truth is, yes, Johnson is never one to get even close to busting an amp, but he does find lift by occasionally incorporating funky and bluesy elements into his compositions. This is a man who probably wouldn’t be where he is today if G. Love and Special Sauce hadn’t covered his song “Rodeo Clowns” on their 1999 album “Philadelphonic,” so he does have a groove-centric background. He has since returned the favor by signing G. Love to his label imprint Brushfire Records.
“Sleep Through the Static” is Johnson’s fifth album if you count his soundtrack for the “Curious George” movie a few years back. On the back cover it reads that is was “Recorded with 100% solar energy,” an amazing feat if you think about how much energy it must take to run a recording studio. But, here’s an artist willing to deliver on his concerns. If only more environmentally-conscious artists would make similar moves. More and more artists are making such moves every day.
Admittedly, this is Johnson’s sleepiest album to date. It rarely picks up above a minor shuffle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Someone needs to play the roll of the pointed troubadour and Johnson’s just the man for the job. First impressions are indeed deceptive, for if you listen to the lyrics of the title track, behind his calm tone, he is angry. “Who needs sleep when we’ve got love? Who needs keys when we’ve got clubs? Who needs please when we’ve got guns?” That last line is the most telling. In the song he is agitated by those who claim that those who “support peace” somehow aren’t supporting the troops. (“Shock an awful thing to make somebody think that they have to choose pushing peace supporting the troops.”) He’s urging his audience to pay attention and not to “sleep through the static.” It’s very political but it doesn’t stray far from the messages in hits like “Good People” and “The Horizon Has Been Defeated.” For those looking for protest songs, Johnson never is one to keep his feelings inside. Don’t be fooled by his soft voice, he’s raging against the machine. He wants peace and understanding.
It’s a question who exactly he’s addressing on “Hope” when he sings of dysfunction and then declares “you better hope you’re not alone.”
“Angel” is quiet love song where he sings “I’ve got an angel. She doesn’t wear any wings.”
“Enemy” benefits from a relaxing, xylophone-esque keyboard line. It’s soft and subtle.
Single “If I Had Eyes” recalls his song “Bubble Toes.” When it picks up, it’s pretty revolutionary sounding compared to the rest of the record. It delivers a classic Jack Johnson feel. In some ways Johnson comes off like a sedate answer to late Sublime singer Brad Nowell when he allows himself to let the groove take him. Johnson did contribute to the Sublime tribute album a few years back, and yes they are an influence on him.
“What You Thought You Need” is a nice acoustic workout with a slight backbeat. It is another possible single contender.
Even though it’s another slow song, it’s nice to hear Johnson plug in on “They Do They Don’t,” another pointed number where he sings “We’re losing everything but the truth. / Is walking straight into a roadblock ending left here bending / Your point of view was chosen by the serpent’s ruse.” No doubt Johnson sees many “roadblocks” on multiple levels.
For some, this record may drag. It does tend to sound very similar throughout. If this description doesn’t sound good to you, odds are you aren’t going to like it. If you’ve liked Johnson’s other records, you’ll most likely enjoy this one, too. His best record is still his debut, “Brushfire Fairytales.” Then he had much more energy than he seems to have now. Nevertheless, “Sleep Through the Static” is a reminder of what he can still do.