Intro: Jack Johnson. His name is synonymous with bland, laid-back acoustic pop. But his new album has been hyped up as a departure, featuring darker lyrical content and electric guitar. “Sleep Through the Static” could be the breakthrough that finally earns Johnson as much praise from critics as he receives from teenagers and soccer moms.
Pros: While the album does feature electric guitar prominently, the clean tones create an aesthetic only marginally different from that of an acoustic guitar.
Still, the change is welcome and it seems to have breathed some new life into Johnson as songwriter: “All at Once” and “Monsoon” are some of his best songs to date.
Cons: Like in Johnson’s past efforts, the hummable if not entirely substantive tunes of “Sleep Through the Static” fail to justify its length and leave it feeling oversaturated.
As promised, the lyrics are more somber, dealing with politics and a terminally ill friend, but they still swim on the shallow side of the pool.
Definitive Track: The fact that this album is Johnson’s most instrumentally elaborate yet only makes the handful of very simple, very sparse tracks pack a stronger punch. The dulcet “Same Girl” features nothing more than Johnson’s soothing vocals and an understated acoustic guitar, but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in raw beauty.
Conclusion: In spite of the hype, Jack Johnson purists have nothing to fear. An evolution instead of a revolution, “Sleep Through the Static” manages to retain Johnson’s signature sound while still delicately venturing into unfamiliar territory-both musically and lyrically. It isn’t a breakthrough, but it makes a great soundtrack for resting, relaxing and otherwise chilling-out.
Final rating: Three stars (out of five)
Staff writer Nick Scheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.