Sleep Through the Static
The first time I listened to Jack Johnson’ new record, Sleep Through the Static, I was on the treadmill. I began to wonder if I was running in sand; my pace slackened as a languid smile slid across my face. I found myself imagining waves lapping at the shoreline and I swear I could smell tanning lotion. A mirage appeared before me, a shimmering party of mellow people imbibing slightly illicit vices and conversing about geo-politics and water-sports. Jack accompanied me for 50 of the most tranquil-minutes of sweating I’ve enjoyed in some time. So the point is, Jack Johnson isn’t challenging anyone to twist & shout, rock & roll, or slam dance to the 14 songs on Sleep Through the Static. Body surfing? That’s a distinct possibility as long as you’re gentle and promise not to drop anyone on their head.
The second time I listened to Johnson’s album I was sitting at my desk with the lyrics in front of me and I was surprised by the gravity of some of the songs – I think. There appears to be a sense of discontent and concern in his rhymes, but Johnson’s stream-of-conscientiousness style of songwriting, his penchant for leaping from one set of images to another, makes it difficult to decipher the subject matter. The opening track “All At Once” conveys a sense of unease, perhaps about global warming, or maybe about the general state of the world. The title track leaves little doubt about Johnson’s views on U.S. foreign policy or his opinion about the country’s apathetic response for the consequences of such actions. But, still, you have to pay attention if you’re going to get the message.
A Jack Johnson album wouldn’t be complete without a bevy of songs about love and companionship and he offers plenty of that here. “Adrift” and “Angel” are acoustic numbers that feature finger-plucked guitars and solo vocals. Piano and drums pick up the pace on “Go On.” But listening to Johnson’s loves songs gives you the feeling that you’ve stumbled into a private conversation between two people who have an intimate understanding of each other. Although they may know each other well enough to finish each others thoughts we are left to read between the lines. In “Monsoon” Johnson writes “And I saw you/in amazement stumbling through the day/You told me time never waits/what is that supposed to mean?” My hand was up most of the record waiting to ask that question.
But a Jack Johnson record isn’t about searching the lyrics for deep meaning. It’s more an experience of guitars rolling along rhythmic progressions, soothing vocals that unobtrusively lift your mood without you even realizing it. It’s a pretty melody that calms your nerves, a tempo that slows the hectic pace and a moment of head bobbing and toe tapping. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine Johnson stated that Sleep Through the Static would contain more electric guitar than on previous records. I’m not sure what he meant – there are electric guitars but he uses them in the same quiet fashion as acoustic guitars. This is another mellow affair from Jack and his trusty band mates. Maybe that’s due to the fact that the record was powered by solar energy – courtesy of L.A.’s Solar Powered Plastic Plant studio.