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No 'Sea' changes

Jack Johnson

To the Sea

Posted 2:03pm on Wednesday, Jun. 02, 2010

If you've ever been fortunate to find yourself on a beach during some pleasantly sunny afternoon, a too-sweet margarita in your hand and your toes in the sand, you know exactly what a Jack Johnson album feels like.

It's a pleasant, sugary buzz, with drowsiness lurking in the background and the sense that, unless reality intrudes, you could sit soaking up rays and listening to waves crash against the shore forever.

This borderline narcotic feeling isn't for everyone, but since his 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales, Johnson has sold in excess of 18 million albums worldwide.

His fifth studio effort, To the Sea, picks up right where 2008's Sleep Through the Static left off. More easygoing acoustic guitar, shuffling rhythms, the occasional guest star (G. Love and Paula Fuga), plenty of lazy lyrics about love -- Johnson could probably dash off an album in his sleep at this point.

Indeed, To the Sea threatens to drift into oblivion more than once. Even though I was paying attention, I nearly nodded off halfway through these 13 tracks, produced by Johnson with help from Robert Carranza, Merlo Podlewski, Zach Gill and Adam Topol. The mellow Hawaiian vibe, enjoyable in small doses, should be monitored by the Food and Drug Administration if Johnson's going to be unleashing this much at once.

It's difficult to single out any notable songs; they more or less slide into one another. The homogeneity isn't helped by Johnson's decision to layer on natural sound effects (waves crashing, birds calling) behind some transitions; the cumulative effect is that of a vacation from which you cannot escape.

But die-hard Johnson aficionados will snap up copies of To the Sea, no questions asked. More casual fans (read: those pondering an impulse purchase at Starbucks) should pause before laying down cash for this latest batch of tunes. Absolutely nothing about it is different from any of Johnson's other four studio albums. Not that consistency is something to be dismissed, but taking an artistic risk or two would certainly not capsize Johnson's career.

If anything, a little adventure would do this beach bum good.

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