While out running errands on Friday, I made a stop at Circuit City to pick up the new Jack Johnson album. Only, it's not really a new Jack Johnson album, but moreso it's the soundtrack to the new animated film Curious George. And I knew this ahead of time, but wanted it anyway. Just pointing that out in case there's any confusion. And, on the off chance you stumbled onto this blog and don't know me, I do not have any kids, nor are my wife and I ever planning to. But yes, I nonetheless bought the soundtrack to a kids' movie with the words "Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies" in the title.
Having not seen the film, I wasn't sure exactly how sing-a-long-y the album would be, but the first track, "Upside Down", has been getting a lot of play on the local radio stations and I really liked it. Well, after having listened to the complete album multiple times on our drive to and from Portland this weekend, I can say that I'm glad I bought the album, but that my overall opinion of it is mixed.
On one hand, I can see the album being heralded for not singing down to the children on an elementary level. Much the way the Harry Potter books are so loved for treating kids like intelligent beings that can handle a complex plot, Johnson (and friends G. Love and Ben Harper to name but a couple) sing about topics that don't insult children's intelligence. To put it as simply as possible, most of it is real music and doesn't feel like it came bundled with a coloring book for $4.99 at Toys R' Us. That's one good thing about the album. Another is the actual production qualities and packaging. The disc comes in a nice cardboard flip-top case made of recycled material, and the liner notes not only give the lyrics to each song a complete two-page spread, but there are very cute pencil and ink drawings on each page. You can't help but smile when flipping through it. Additionally, Johnson is a big proponent of environmental education and a portion of the sale of each disc goes to funding such education in schools.
Liner notes and environmental causes aside, we buy albums for the music and that's where this disc seems to go astray. The album starts off strong but unfortunately becomes less enjoyable halfway through it as if each successive song is in fact geared to a slightly younger age person than the previous one. The first five or six tracks are essentially the stuff we come to expect from Johnson, albeit slower and a bit more dominated by the chorus than normal. But each of them are very enjoyable and would be a welcome addition to any of his other albums. Of these, I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Broken", "Wrong Turn", or "Talk of the Town" on the radio.
The middle of the album features a very smooth transition into the more childish latter half of the disc. After the harmonica-laden "Jungle Gym" featuring G. Love, the disc goes on to play the sugary-sweet "We're Going to be Friends". The song is so utterly adorable and sweet that it's almost impossible not to have a tear well up in your eyes as the song makes you long for the innocence of youth and the simple joy of walking to school, and collecting bugs, and making friends. It's probably my second favorite song on the album.
The second half of the album is far more likely to be skipped over on future playings. This is where the album's full title gets its name and while enjoyable on the first couple playings, sing-a-long songs about "The 3 R's" (reduce, reuse, recycle) can get a bit grating. As can Ben Harper's contribution, the disappointing and disturbingly positive "With My Own Two Hands". These songs and others like "The Sharing Song" are sure to make you smile the first time or two you hear them, but if you don't have kids, you're unlikely to listen to them more than that.
All in all, the album is a mixed bag. I don't regret buying the album, but I do indeed feel as if I only have an EP for the price of an LP. I'd suggest going to iTunes and buying the first seven tracks and just listen to the samples of the others.