After much anticipation, singer-songwriter Jack Johnson released his new album, “All the Light Above It Too,” last Friday, Sept. 8, his first album since 2013. Johnson did not record “All the Light” with the band he has historically recorded with; rather, he and longtime producer Robbie Lackritz were the main sources of instrumental sound. Johnson addressed the inspiration for his album, noting both political and environmental realizations in his own personal journey spanning the past year. He was especially unsettled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement and cut funds from the EPA’s budget.
“This album shares what has been on my mind during the past year or so,” Johnson said in a July interview with Rolling Stone. “A year in which I sailed through the North Atlantic Gyre for a documentary about plastic pollution in the ocean. A year in which Trump was elected as the President of the United States.”
Johnson released the politically charged single “My Mind is for Sale” that same month, delivering jabs at Trump’s wall rhetoric with effervescent instrumentation, but perhaps the laid-back tune was not effective in reflecting America's outrage and pain. The song has an almost carefree feeling, misrepresenting the dire state of the current political climate. Sure, it is nice to see notable people use their platforms to speak out against injustices, but this particular track makes listeners wonder what Johnson will do beyond merely singing about his grievances.
The rest of the album is defined by buoyant acoustic numbers with political undertones and ethereal moods. “Mom forget to tuck you in, make you start a war within your head / One that you could never win, send in the troops, send insecurities,” Johnson hums almost lazily on the track “You Can’t Control It,” highlighting Johnson’s deep moral conflict with the policies and divisive rhetoric of the Trump administration. Although the song maintains Johnson’s trademarked relaxed cadence, Johnson manages to be more effective in capturing his disapproval with a defiant—if not sarcastic tone.
“It’s not just talks of a physical wall dividing America, but also the hateful racist, sexist language that creates a metaphorical wall diving us within our own country,” Johnson told Rolling Stone.
Johnson’s lyrics gently implore listeners to consider how America can be made better for all its citizens and his efforts to convey America’s division resonate every so often within the album. But at times, it must be noted, they seem to fall flat.
Certain tracks come off as hastily written and lazily put together, including the song “Daybreaks,” which leaves listeners underwhelmed and wishing Johnson would take more chances like he does in his slightly more experimental track “Gather,” featuring boisterous percussive elements that call the people to gather and rise up to assume responsibility over not only our nation but our world. The album undeniably has its shining moments, particularly “Love Song #16,” which delivers a stellar, melodious ode to Johnson's wife.
Furthermore, the track “Subplots” offers an upbeat, dreamlike praise of nature, in which Johnson’s mellow yet bold refrain declares that “[The Sun] don’t shine just for you / Birds don't sing / Trees don't lose / Leaves don't change for you,” asserting to environmentally irresponsible institutions that nature doesn’t belong to anyone and does not function merely to serve our needs. Rather, it exists as an entirely separate entity with or without humanity. Such tracks shed light on Johnson’s passion for conservation, sustainability and environmental policy.
Johnson, who was born in Oahu, Hawaii, feels that his birthplace largely connects with his deep affinity for nature and its preservation. Johnson has been taking the sustainable route in promoting “Green Concerts,” in which he reserves a list of demands for the venues he plays, including requests for energy efficient lighting and emphasis on recycling. His efforts have positively impacted concert venues, in many cases raising revenue and generating good publicity.
“If I’m going to keep doing this, I have to help keep the industry I’m a part of be more responsible,” Johnson told The Huffington Post. “Upgrades like these bring in good press and can attract better artists for more profitable shows. Sometimes, venues find that the greener options also end up being the cheaper option too.” As a whole, Johnson’s voice for change and his efforts to promote sustainability offers hope to avid fans, but for some, Johnson’s words on the state of American politics would better serve as actions.