On In Between Dreams, Jack Johnson breaks the typical singer-songwriter mold, producing a new genre of music, an amalgam of surfer-style, blues-inflected pop. Despite faulty sequencing, the smooth vocals and poignant lyrics produce a mostly successful album.
Johnson’s debut album, Brushfire Fairytales, was met with high praise from college kids and teenage girls, immediately creating a loyal fan base for the lo-fi pop artist. Despite lukewarm reception, 2003’s On and On managed to debut at No. 3 on the Billboard chart and went platinum. It’s two years later, and Johnson has returned with his third studio album, and In Between Dreams lives up to fans’ expectations. The carefree melodies supported by the depth of the lyrics create the trademark Johnson sound that admirers are sure to eat up.
Perhaps the most striking quality of Dreams is the fact that Johnson marries catchy melodies with subtle yet strong lyrics. “Crying Shame” is one of these tracks; Johnson croons emotionally about the war in Iraq: “We say it’s a war for peace / It’s the same old game / But do we really want to play … a number of people are numbers / Who ain’t coming home.” Johnson’s tender vocals cause listeners to become affected by the delicate subject matter. The emotional heaviness continues on the touching “If I Could,” in which a family’s newborn baby has only a few weeks to live.
Thankfully, the album is not all slow, heart-wrenching tunes. The up-tempo “Staple Is Together” adds a new depth to Johnson’s material with exploding drum kit work. The lead single on In Between Dreams, ‘Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” is a song of unrequited love, underscored by wailing guitar chords. Despite the gravity of the track, the music is undeniably catchy and the arrangement surprisingly upbeat.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s latest is not without fault. “Banana Pancakes” is a painfully tedious dirge, while “Situations,” clocking in at a little over one minute, makes a pointless addition to Dreams. The album would no doubt have been better without this afterthought of a song. Another misstep is the sequencing: The songs seem to be grouped in blocks of similar subject matter, with all the heavier tracks weighing down the second half of the album.
Regardless of these faults, In Between Dreams is a solid release, chock-full of low-key, relaxing music fit for snoozing on the beach. To those who consistently compare Jack Johnson to John Mayer: Stop. The man has much more personality than Mayer, and it shines through on In Between Dreams.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars