Jack Johnson Puts Out a Surprisingly Soulful Surf Jam Album with Meet The Moonlight
4.7 out of 5 stars
I honestly don’t know what it is about Jack Johnson that I like so much, but the dude is like the zen to my rage that I need to hear every so often.
As much as I like fast, uptempo smash and crash songs, I also like a good easy going sound that doesn’t suck (the last part is hard to accomplish).
Johnson has been creating music that I thoroughly enjoy for over 20 years. He might be the most consistent artist that makes good songs that I actually like to hear over a long period of time.
His new album, which is his 8th studio album (not including the Curious George soundtrack), is called Meet The Moonlight, and it is what you expect from a Jack Johnson album - good guitar and musicianship with laid back songs about anything from societal errors to religion and to nostalgic memories.
The man is like the surfing version of Johnny Cash, I guess. No matter what he puts out, it just seems to be good. It doesn’t have to be supremely technical or lyrically masterful, but the man can paint a picture with his words, and I think his poetry is probably what I like the most of his music.
True to form, the first song on the album, “Open Mind,” talks about how society has become closed minded which causes constant anxiety and stress and madness in the world.
However, he doesn’t make it about “them and us” as a lot of other musicians do. Johnson always involves himself in the muck and says, “Why we find it so easy to believe in everything we’re sold, but we’re never gonna see?”
The next song, “3AM Radio” is one of those nostalgic songs about a specific instance in his life or in character about driving home late at night while listening to the radio.
Johnson has an incredible ability to let listeners “peak in” on intimate moments that are usually reserved for photographs or paintings or just a memory for most people.
I like the guitar work in this song as well. Some solos and some cool riffing that shows some of the skills that Johnson and his backing band have.
“Calm Down” is a bit of an homage to Johnson's Hawaiian homeland The sliding guitar with the staccato guitar accompanied by a few hand drums (bongos perhaps) that make it feel like a vacation in itself.
In all honesty, I should be listening to this song about 20 times a day for every time I stub my toe, smash a finger, splash myself with hot grease while cooking or whatever other dumb thing happens that irritates the hell out of me. It’s a very therapeutic song. No idea how he can be so mellow.
“One Step Ahead” is the lead single from the album, and is a poignant song about the social responsibility that many people seem to shirk in order to rush ahead and compete.
Johnson uses this line in the refrain to remind people that just because you are first doesn’t mean you are right or best.
“Meet The Moonlight” is the title track and it is probably the most simplistic song on the album. Straightforward and lyrically uncomplicated, the song is aspirational and seems to want to inspire a bit of a “get back to nature and reconnect with your fellow man” type of sentiment. The song doesn’t offer a specific subject really other than just to say don’t give up, basically. At least, that’s what I get from it.
Another commonality in his songwriting is how humans are flawed animals, which Johnson delves into on the song “Don’t Look Now” when he says, “Don’t look now, but somehow we got shook up. Good luck, baby. We’re only animals in love.”
“Costume Party” is by far the most “Jack Johnson” song on the whole album, in my opinion. It is literally EVERYTHING I like about his music. Bold lyrics, extra-annunciated syllables and words, great singing, great guitar work, and a really catchy song all the way through. It’s a really good song.
The vocal performance on “Windblown Eyes” is almost country-esque and so full of clarity that it is actually worth listening to every sound that Johnson makes. It oddly reminds me of Randy Travis without the twang in a lot of ways.
“Any Wonder” is another classic Johnson song that will have you remembering songs like “Do You Remember” from In Between Dreams mixed with a bit of fire in his belly. It’s probably one of the most soulful songs I have ever heard from Johnson. It’s almost as if he is singing for his very existence.
This album was a collaboration between Johnson and Blake Mills who Johnson worked with due to his previous work on Alabama Shakes album Sound & Color which is a great album as well. I don’t know how much influence Mills had over the entire album, but hearing Johnson talk about him, it would seem like he was pretty involved.
I wouldn’t say that Mills is the reason why the album is so good, because I liked all the other albums Johnson has put out, but there are a couple moments on this album that feel like would not be there (and thankfully they are) if Mills wasn’t involved.