It would be easy to dismiss Jack Johnson’s latest album, Sleep Through The Static, as a rip-off of his three previous platinum releases, but that is beside the point. With his acoustic guitar and pensive lyrics, the UCSB alumnus’ music would certainly sound more fitting on a Del Playa balcony or in the confines of a hot-boxed car than on the main stage of the Coachella Valley Music Festival, where he’s scheduled to headline in April. However, in spite of the Santa Barbaran surf rock and reggae influences that pervade his thoughtful but sometimes bland songs, his easily whistle-able melodies are infectious enough to be considered pure pop. Sleep Through The Static, is his fourth successful attempt to simultaneously appeal to the masses while calmly pouring his heart out, and if the older disks didn’t bore you, this one won’t either.
However, there is a noticeable attempt to make Static sound darker and edgier than 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales, 2003’s On and On, 2005’s In Between Dreams and, of course, the Curious George soundtrack. On this album, Johnson has ditched his folksy acoustic solos, for the most part. Instead, “All at Once” kicks off the album with sad, slowly strummed minor chords. He channels more of his energy into fiddling with the electric, which is evident during a country-style solo in the album’s titular track. Static also features more piano, bass guitar and even the occasional accordion. But Johnson and his band aren’t showoffs; they stay true to his simple style by performing each instrument with restraint, adding a very subtle amount of texture and rhythm to more repetitive songs like “Hope.”
“They Do, They Don’t” makes the best use of repetition with distorted electric arpeggios, creating a thoroughly depressing background over which he sings that the “future is an empty promise.” But depression doesn’t slow him down too much, as the song progressively becomes so catchy that he makes lyrics like “Your point of view was chosen by the serpent’s ruse” sound inspirational. In fact, his singing is too soulful and mellow to take any of Static’s songs to the darker places they seemed they might go to, and Johnson remains at his most convincing during his stripped-down love ballads. “Angel” is the most romantic track, despite its cheesy description of a girl who “gives me presents / With her presence alone.” While phonier singer/songwriters would attempt to make girls cry by going into emotional overkill, Johnson stays genuine by singing each sappy line only once, thus giving the pretty song a seemingly spontaneous, campfire-style vibe.
Johnson bemoans in “All at Once” that “Sometimes it feels like a heart / Is no place to be singing from at all,” but, once again, the heart remains the driving and selling force behind his music, even when it’s slightly broken.