From Here To Now To You is Jack Johnson’s sixth album. Sixth! That’s six albums of “laid back surf folk” if you’re a glass half full sort of person. Or incessantly, irritatingly smug guitar twiddling if you’re not.
Not one to veer from his signature sound, it’s business as usual, and From Here To Now To You is pretty much a more polished take on his debut, 2001’s Brushfire Fairytales. Its breezy, featherweight, sun kissed tracks can (almost) make being stuck under a clammy arm pit on a cramped Northern Line carriage feel like kicking back by the beach. And while the laid back, gently strummed surfer pop thing grew tired somewhere in the late noughties (even Paolo Nutini has moved on, and hardly anyone on The X Factor had a go this year), the most annoying thing about Jack Johnson is that he’s just so good at it.
From Here To Now To You is technically almost faultless. It certainly sees Johnson carve some of the most impressive melodies of his career; Shot Reverse Shot and Tapedeck especially are destined to become unshiftable earworms when they inevitably find their way onto the Radio 2 playlist, and his voice is as smooth as the sunblock it’s advisable to lather on before listening.
Now at the grand old age of 38, Johnson might still fancy himself as a Hawaiian surfer dude. But his lyrics have turned to matters of the heart, and From Here To Now To You concentrates on cosy, homely subjects, from his wife to domestic chores to reminiscing about the good old days of bumming around with friends – and he manages to make them all sound idyllic. He’s one of life’s optimists, is Johnson. But is there a hidden, darker side to him? Tapedeck is a hedonistic tale of putting a band together with friends in his living room – they listened to Fugazi apparently and, he tells us: “From my tapedeck there’s a recklessness…” No, probably not.
Of course there’s much to like about Johnson. He’s a sentimental chap; see Washing Dishes – “One day I’ll be running this place, one day I’ll take you away… baby I’ll work hard” – and of course he’s well known for his environmental concerns, which are reassuringly referenced throughout his latest album, including Changes, which features sweetly sliding guitar from occasional collaborator, the equally prolific Ben Harper. The presence of Harper – a slightly edgier, bluesy version of Johnson – on this track is keenly felt; it’s sharper, with sighing, longing strings that add a sincerity the solo Johnson can lack. That’s his biggest downfall – the perfectly structured, glossy, woozing sound can sound a little too perfect; there’s no quirk or edge to it, and while he sings songs that can be lyrically intense, it’s hard to believe him.
From Here To Now To You isn’t going to propel Johnson to dizzying new heights – commercially or critically – but it’ll keep fans listening. If you like him, you’ll like it. Can’t say simpler than that.