Sunday, June 26, 2022

Kat's Korner: Jack Johnson finds his way back

Kat: Jack Johnson had a string of number one albums and then he released ALL THE LIGHT ABOVE IT TOO and a big question mark settled over him.

The album debuted at number five but was a bomb, sold only 41,000 copies and, worst of all, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many.  Jack thought he was being political but he was being partisan and, worst of all, it was beyond his abilities to make that interesting.

Five years later, he's finally following up with MEET THE MOONLIGHT.

Jack wasn't the only one confusing art and exasperating their fan base.

Tori Amos, one of my all time favorites, thought we needed her to be partisan as well.  She even released a book called RESISTANCE which was poorly written and shallow to the extreme -- I'm not referring to the superficial nature of her political 'theory,' I am referring to the inability to go deep when discussing the songs she herself wrote.  It was an embarrassment and no effort at panning for gold would bear out.

Apparently, Tori has no friends because no one pulled her aside to tell her, "America doesn't want or need this."  Because we didn't.  We didn't need to hear about politics and what was going on in our country from a woman who has chosen to make her life in another country.  Write about the country you're living in.  Maybe you might have actually had something to say?

That book was just the latest assault Tori carried out on her fans.  2002 and 2004 -- SCARLET'S WALK and THE BEEKEEPR -- were the last time she made it easy for her fans.  

ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN is an album I still can't listen to.  Yes, there's some real art on it but the keys she's chosen to sing and play in on that album churn my stomach and make me ill.   She followed that with MIDWINTER GRACES -- no one was asking for a seasonal album from Tori.  Then came NIGHT OF THE HUNTERS which held promise and seemed to be a peace offering to us fans but then she was off on GOLD DUST and thinking she was Joni Mitchell (redoing her songs with some form of classical backing) returned for UNREPENTANT GERALDINES which, in retrospect, is a huge disappointment.  Then came NATIVE INVADER which fans tried to embrace.  Finally, she released OCEAN TO OCEAN not grasping that the bulk of her once significant base had tired of her abusive ways and moved on.

Maybe the fact that it struggled to make BILLBOARD's TOP 200 albums let her know where things stood?  The album only made it to 104 -- quite a come down for an artist who was known in the past for always landing her albums in the top ten.

It was too much, it was just too damn much.

Entertainers aren't getting the message so let me spell it out.  We live our own lives.  You can enhance those.  You can give some powerful music.  But we aren't in need of your advice.

You want to speak out for farmers?  I'm fine with it.  You want to be really political -- like Jackson Browne on LIVES IN THE BALANCE and Joni Mitchell on DOG EAT DOG -- I'm down with that too.  I hope you have the talent they did to pull it off but I'm find with you trying.

I don't need you to tell me how to vote.  And I honestly grasp how stupid you are when you talk politics.  It's a huge let down.  And it's because you don't know politics.  You 'put your time in' by watching MSNBC.  That's not politics, you idiot.  It's partisan chatter.   You end up sounding like Lysette Anthony's character in HUSBAND AND WIVES and not grasping that everyone at the party thinks you're a fool.  At least, everyone who's actually put the work on the issues thinks that. 

Some people can do the work -- or have it done for them.  It's become obvious, for example, that Tom Hayden did the work for Jane Fonda as the last few years have offered one embarrassment after another from Jane.  Gone are real issues like the danger of nuclear plants and instead we get fluff and nonsense (see Ava and C.I.'s "Media: The Jane Fonda Horror Show" to get just how bad Jane's last book was).  

Tori's notion that she can do the work from afar, from across the ocean?  She can't.  She comes off like an idiot and she's already tried our patience with one experiment after another.  We will indulge an artist an experiment or two.  But if they're wanting the career they have, the need to grasp that, for example, if Tori had stayed in classical music, most of us would never have bought any of her albums.  

OCEAN TO OCEAN is garbage to fans.  So, in retrospect, was UNREPENTANT GERALDINES.  Hard truths, people.  Joni went through an experimental phase and it enriched her at the end.  But I'd argue her fans were right to walk.  She likes to say that detractors insulted her jazz period by stating it was like "Johnny Carson show music."

She still doesn't get it.  We were never saying that it was like something a person would perform on THE TONIGHT SHOW or cocktail jazz, we were saying it sounded like crap.

I was reminded of that when I listened to OCEAN TO OCEAN.  It sounds like crap.  And so did UNREPENTANT GERALDINES.  I was just thrilled to have Tori back to making songs that I didn't get that this wasn't an album but along phase she was stuck in.

The insult -- to Joni or to Tori -- goes to the fact that the music is thin.  It has no bass.  It has now power behind it.  In the 70s, when Joni got the slams, you didn't have stereo TV.  And the sound was very thing.  That's what they were talking about with DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER and MINGUS.  And that's been Tori's problem for some time now.  You really do have to go back to THE BEEKEEPER to find her with any kind of a sound fit for radio. 

And that's why the US leg of her tour this year was her worst selling tour.  She can't do auditoriums anymore.  She had to do 'theaters.'  What's next?  The night club circuit?  Is she and Sonny & Cher before TV allowed them a comeback?

We pay them.  We pay to see them in concert.  We pay to have their songs or their albums.

And then they turn around and they want to lecture us about topics they know nothing about.  

Add to that, they want to do crap albums and we're supposed to buy them anyway.

F**k that.  

The Rolling Stones earned their still substantial following by putting it into the albums.  Yes, Mick's spoken on issues before -- including pot.  But the group put their energy into the albums.  They didn't take for granted that people were going to buy the new album because 10 or 20 years ago they bought an album.  

Tori is estranged from her fans and she has no one to blame but herself.  When the last time you resonated with your fan base was on an album released 20 years ago -- eleven albums back, you have tortured the people who enjoyed your music to begin with.  You have abused your base.  And maybe before deciding you have thoughts to share in a book, you should pour that time into making an album that's worth people actually paying money for.

Jack Johnson is smarter or luckier than Tori.

Instead of expecting his base to endure abuse, he returned with MEET THE MOONLIGHT, ten strong tracks.  He sounds confident, he sounds assured.  He's political but not partisan.  (SLEEP THROUGH THE STATIC is also a political album.)  And that probably goes a long way towards helping whatever cause you're advancing.  Jack is, of course, rightly concerned with the environment.  And he's equally concerned with making an album that is worth listening to.

I don't know if "3 AM" or "Any Wonder" is my favorite track on the album.

But I do know that I love the album.  Jack's back to making albums -- an album artist like Sade.  He offers a statement and it works start to finish.

Jack was in some rocky waters but he made it back to shore.  Maybe Tori can as well?