50. On and On

On and On- Jack Johnson (2003)

86.3

How: Jack Johnson’s music video for “Taylor” received heavy airplay on VH1 in early 2003, with good reason. Post 9/11 videos were drab and drowning with self-pity, but Johnson bucked the trend and recruited Ben Stiller to do his best Chevy Chase impression on a sun-drenched and earthy video shoot. The Hawaiian landscape and six-foot waves matched Johnson’s chilled approach to songwriting, and with Stiller around to give his seal of approval, Johnson finally got the recognition he deserved as this generation’s Jimmy Buffet (though, that doesn’t read as flattering when written out). My parents already owned Johnson’s impressive debut Brushfire Fairytales, and soon On and On played heavily in our SUV’s CD changer.

Why: Johnson reminds me of middle-school, though I didn’t have the typical middle school experience. I liked middle school; most of my classmates equally enjoyed their middle school experience, and the soundtrack by which we all connected was Johnson’s 2006 soundtrack accompaniment to the Curious George movie. Of course, by high school we lost interest in Johnson in favor of songs that better described puberty and sadness. Point is, Jack Johnson makes quality music that receives the same complaint from many critics: it’s one dimensional.

They’re correct. Johnson makes hammock music, and nothing but hammock music, but Johnson’s hammock music is as diverse as anything you can find on a surf rock compilation. Like a good therapist, Johnson has figured out many ways to calm the listener down, and each of his six albums, despite having the same melodic approach, succeed in finding it’s own way towards paradise. On and On is the strongest of Johnson’s immaculate tropical collection.

Johnson is usually better when hogging the spotlight with a guitar, but the tracks he composes here with help from a band are just as impressive as his solo work. “The Horizon Has Been Defeated” veers into a chilled reggatta de blanc while “Wasting Time” happily pours its wisdom onto a song that is slow dance ready: “I’m just a waste of her energy/and she’s just a waste of my time/so why don’t we get together and waste everything.” His imagination flows brilliantly into the spacey “Traffic in the Sky,” and the one-two punch of “Dreams be Dreams” and “Tomorrow Morning” can charm the sundress off of any willing lover.

If there’s one thing that Johnson crusades against, it’s materialism. “Well look at all those fancy clothes/but these’ll keep us warm just like those” he beings “Gone” (easy for a Hawaiian to say). Johnson never directly tells us that our things are bad, but by placing a greater value on people (especially his girl) over possessions, he makes his strongest moral case by saying very little.

 

Johnson trips slightly when getting serious. “Cookie Jar” bores despite a well-intentioned message and “Rodeo Clowns” feels completely mangled. He has good things to say, but the title of messenger seems too far out his comfort zone to be placed on and LP. Though better when dealing with joy, Johnson’s poignant sad ballads separate On and On from everything else he’s done. He tries the other side of the emotional spectrum two or three times per album, and the attempts on On and On, “Cocoon” and “Gone,” not only match the rest of the album stride-for-stride, but also are among the strongest melodies on the collection.

 

The album’s peak, however, is it’s finale, “Symbol in my Driveway.” The waves guiding his impressionist planning leave the listener with a pleasant taste of Johnson’s effortless storytelling. Pop looks down upon hammock music, but it’s one of the few genres accessible to all ages, barring any references to hallucinogens (thankfully nowhere to be found here). Unlike most great musicians, Johnson never inspires awe, but he provides us with many ways to lie down on the ground, think about stuff, and be content with what we have.

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