An initial pass through Michael Franti & Spearhead’s The Sound of Sunshine could leave a listener drawing several conclusions. While one person could feel that Michael Franti is trying to capitalize on the success of his first mainstream single, another could bask in the accessible beach music put forth in The Sound of Sunshine. All of it comes down to perspective.
Since all I have is my own experience and education to draw from, I will take you down my path. I was introduced to Michael Franti & Spearhead when a friend of mine popped a CD in his car and said: “You should check this guy out.” The artist I was introduced to was both culturally and politically charged; our own Bob Marley and Gil Scott-Heron recording during our lifetime. I should have been more excited.
After that, Michael Franti immediately entered a realm of my mental library: someone whose music I should seek out at. The only problem was, that part of my library would get fuzzy when I got to the music store and I would forget to look for his albums as I flipped methodically through the used records.
Ten years later, my hand was forced by finally having to get a Franti record. The Michael Franti I had left in my friend’s CD player was quite different than this one. I was familiar with his 2009 hit single, “Say Hey (I Love You),” and was curious what he was up to.
Exit the political stage, enter the beach. Part reggae, part funk, a little rock, and a whole lot of pop, The Sound of Sunshine is a soundtrack for sand and surf and when the mercury rises above 75 degrees. There are many artists who already cornered the market on this type of music; Jimmy Buffett built several restaurants based on his success.
What Michael Franti brings to the table of beach music is honesty and earnestness. It would be easy to listen to any of these songs with a smirk and a sense of irony, but the joy is too genuine and infectious to be that cruel. Franti could have honed this authenticity during his near-fatal appendectomy in 2009, right before he recorded The Sound of Sunshine. In the album, he blends flip-flop wearing lyrics, acoustic strumming and reggae beats into 45 minutes that will transport you to your own tropical island.
The album is bookended with sounds of sunshine in different forms to bring everything full circle, with pop hit potential in songs like “Hey Hey Hey,” a rock anthem in “The Thing That Helps Me Get Through,” and a ballad in “I’ll Be Waiting” – a nod to every pivotal scene in 80s movies when the male protagonist fights to get his girl back after a moment of weakness drove his love interest away.
Listening to this album leaves me hoping for a remake of the movie Cocktail and that Michael Franti is tapped to write the soundtrack. It also makes me think I will be looking to put it in heavy rotation by the time the calendar page gets flipped to June. Beach music is not normally in my canon, but Michael Franti’s foray into all things tropical is worth making the room.