Album Review: Jack Johnson, “In Between Dreams” (2005)

Jack Johnson’s name has often come up in conversations about music among my friends and me. I had never heard any of his music in the past, and my friends would often tell me, knowing my music taste (namely my love for artists like John Mayer and Howie Day) that I would really dig his music, but I never got around to giving him a chance. Finally, during a random stop at my local Best Buy, I spotted his third studio album, In Between Dreams, on the sale rack, and decided to see if my friends were right.

I guess they know me better than I thought.

Johnson’s third album is a treat. The disc is made up of relaxing acoustic rock, thoughtful and clever lyrics (written by Johnson himself), and beautiful melodies that will make you want to do nothing more than spend a day lying around on a beach.

The album starts off with Better Together, a sweet and mellow love song. Most of the album consists of love songs, and thankfully, Johnson seems to be a pro at both writing them and singing them. His voice isn’t incredibly remarkable, but he definitely has a smooth tone and is always more than pleasant to listen to. Anyway, the opening song holds some cute lyrics that will make you smile (“There’s no combination of words/I could put on the back of a postcard/No song that I could sing/But I can try for your heart…/It’s not always easy and/Sometimes life can be deceiving/I’ll tell you one thing it’s always better when we’re together”), and the song is a perfect introduction to the rest of the album.

The tempo picks up a bit for Never Know, in which Johnson takes time to comment on how people deal with life (“It sure seems the same, with a different name/We’re breaking and rebuilding/And we’re growing/Always guessing…/We’re clever but we’re clueless/We’re just human/Amusing but confusing/Were trying but where is this all leading/Never know”). Though the song is pretty interesting lyrically, it’s mostly the fun, upbeat sound and catchy chorus that makes it worth listening to. Banana Pancakes follows, and is the first of my favorites on the album. The calming melody and lyrics (“Maybe we can sleep in/Ill make you banana pancakes/Pretend like its the weekend now/And we could pretend it all the time/Cant you see that its just raining/Ain’t no need to go outside”) definitely make me wish I could just laze around in bed and listen to this song all day, which I’m pretty sure was Johnson’s intention.

Another of my favorites comes with No Other Way. The song is another slow paced one- possibly the closet thing to a ballad on the album- but the combination of the well-written lyrics (“And know that if I knew/All of the answers I would/Not hold them from you’d/Know all the things that I’d know/We told each other, there is no other way”), calm melody, and Johnson’s hushed vocals create a perfect song.Sitting, Wishing, waiting is the most popular single from the album (and the song most people know Johnson for), and it’s easy to see why. The lyrics of unrequited love (“Well if I was in your position/I’d put down all my ammunition/I’d wondered why’d it taken me so long/But Lord knows that I’m not you/And If I was I wouldn’t be so cruel/Cause waiting on love ain’t so easy to do/Must I always be waiting, waiting on you?/Must I always be playing, playing your fool?”) can apply to nearly everyone (admit it- we’ve all been in this same situation before), and the catchy chorus and acoustic guitar-led melody add to the song’s charm.

Staple It Together has a sort of reggae vibe to it that works well, and the song just continues in the album’s current vein of excellence. Though the lyrics are still great (“He’s moving on before he understood/He shot the future in the foot with every step he took/From the places that he’s been cause he forgot to look”) its the bouncy sound that makes the song worth repeated listens, and the chorus is another that’ll be stuck in your head all day.

Jack Johnson @ NIB Stadium (4 12 2010) (5252474005)

The album hits a bit of a slump at this point. Situations has a smooth sound, but seems to drag on for some reason, despite being a little more than a minute long. Crying Shame has a sort of old school R&B vibe to it, and as Johnson takes another view at society (“We could close our eyes it’s still there/We could say it’s us against them/We can try but nobody wins/Gravity has got a hold on us all/We try to put it out/But it’s a growing flame/Using fear as fuel”), the song still lacks something extra to make it standout among the better tracks on the album. If I Could starts off beautifully with the harmonica playing, but the rest of the song sort of dwindles down after that. Both Breakdown and Good People boast great choruses (it seems Johnson has an undeniable talent of writing a memorable chorus), but both songs are incredibly forgettable.

Things pick back up with Belle. Though the song is more of an interlude (coming in at only 1:42), it’s another one of my favorites. The first minute is entirely composed of guitar and the harmonica, until Johnson comes in singing in…French. Yes, the entire “song” is sung in French, until we get to the last verse as Johnson realizes, “But Belle/Je ne comprends pas francais” and adds, “So you’ll have to speak to me/Some other way”. Simply adorable.

Do You Remember is an ode to Johnson’s wife of over ten years, and is appropriately romantic. I’m not sure if the lyrics are 100% autobiographical, but if they are, Johnson gets points for creating a song about his real life romance (“So I was late for class/I locked my bike to yours/It wasn’t hard to find/You painted flowers on/Guess that I was afraid/That if you rode away/You might not roll back/My direction real soon/Well, I was crazy about you then/And now the craziest thing of all/Over 10 years have gone by/And you’re still mine”) and if they aren’t, he also gets points for making up a story that’s so darn sweet (“Do you remember/When we first moved in together/The piano took up the living room/You’d play me boogie woogie/I played you love songs/You’d say we’re playing house/Now you still say we are”).

The album closes with Constellations. The breezy tune and dreamy lyrics (“It was just another night/With a sunset/And a moonrise not so far behind/To give us just enough light/To lay down underneath the stars/Listen to Papa’s translations/Of the stories across the sky/We drew our own constellations”) will probably always remind me of this summer, which is definitely a good thing. Johnson’s vocals almost seem to melt across the song, and the track is both a great ender to the album and another one of the CD’s standouts.

My first introduction to Jack Johnson has definitely been a great one. In Between Dreams is a wonderfully relaxing album, but it also has enough lyrical content to make the songs more than just background music. Johnson’s blend of acoustic rock and folk music is a perfect fit for him, and treat for his listeners.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Better Together
2. Never Know
3. Banana Pancakes
4. Good People
5. No Other Way
6. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
7. Staple It Together
8. Situations
9. Crying Shame
10. If I Could
11. Breakdown
12. Belle
13. Do You Remember
14. Constellations


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