Album Review: Jack Johnson – Meet Me In The Moonlight3 min read
Jack Johnson cuts an isolated figure on the black and white cover of new album Meet Me In The Moonlight. The surf-obsessed, beach loving family man is in a reflective mood for this newest batch of songs. This iteration of Johnson brings depth and nuance to his songwriting, showing he’s more than just a feel-good acoustic pop hit maker.
Open Mind is a good start to the record, with an earnest performance reminiscent of Ben Howard. Soon after, Calm Down is a major highlight. It is full of personality, with the onomatopoeic repetition of “echo, echo, echo” and catchy verses. Johnson flexes the range of his voice, modulating his tone and pitch throughout as well as adding background vocals and inflections. The slide guitar has a fitting ‘winding down’ effect, sliding down from raw high notes to a deeper frequency, imitating the winding up and down momentum of the song. The song portrays the accumulation of thoughts and worries and the importance of being able to put them into perspective. To this end, the chorus is really effective: its simple lyrics, “calm down”, are drawn out and expressed like an exhalation from the back and forth, frenetic language that comprises stressed thoughts.
One Step Ahead follows Calm Down with a lot of thrust and punch, and a lively bassline. It leads well into Meet Me In The Moonlight, which is comparatively restful. Following on from the first half of the album, the title track is the album’s centrepiece and the sound of regaining clarity amid a period of frantic soul-searching. The song is mystical, finding rest in repeated musical motifs. In the absence of percussion, the layers of guitar are immersive. It’s a left-field choice for a lead single, especially when there are several more upbeat and catchy songs here to choose from, but Meet Me In The Moonlight is one of the album’s strongest offerings and a fitting embodiment of the album’s themes. Warmth and comfort is wrought from sinking into mellowness and embracing it.
In the second half of the album, Don’t Look Now is a peppy acoustic pop record that Johnson could have written fifteen years ago. It’s placed well as an uplifting track to follow Meet Me In The Moonlight. Costume Party, meanwhile, has a silly, wacky feel about it instrumentally that works well to offset Johnson’s delivery and lyrics. It encapsulates the disassociating effect of having to be performative in social contexts. Alongside the lyrics, the wacky instrumentation comes across as purposefully disingenuous – Johnson struggles to buy into his surroundings whilst he has “still got the mask on”.
Windblown Eyes includes a good range of chord progressions and the use of steel drums brings a welcome dose of variety to the album’s instrumentation. It has the weakest chorus on the album, though, that somewhat hamstrings the song. Any Wonder, however, is a great example of an album closer that projects outwards instead of the common inclination to close in or summarise albums at their finish. As a result, there is a strong sense of resolve to keep things moving, and to move on from the things one can’t keep: “can’t hold on to now, so hard to let it go”, Johnson affirms over and over for a rousing end to the album.
Overall, Meet Me In The Moonlight is the most interesting album Johnson has put out for years – a tonal shift that will please new and old audiences alike. The production is subtle but effective. It does not take away from Johnson’s strengths (his detailed guitar work and endearing voice), focusing on complementing them whilst adding small touches of variety. On this evidence, Johnson still has much to offer more than 20 years on from his first album.