When it comes to reviewing a John Mayer album, it’s always “better late than never.”
Because just when you think that we’ve got John Mayer pegged, he goes off and makes an album like “Sob Rock.” On album number eight, Mayer channels the music of his youth. In an interview with Guitar World magazine, Mayer said, “I’m at an age where I’m looking back and I’m really joyously reminiscing about times in my life as a listener, and as a music lover. And I’m going, ‘Well, why can’t I just ignite that spark on this one song? And if somebody gets a kick out of it, whether they know why or not, wouldn’t that be great?’”
So it is that the 43-year-old singer-songwriter and guitarist wrote a whole album that channeled the music of his youth. Specifically, as an impressionable 16-year-old high school student listening to 80’s era Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel and 80’s inspired soft rock. First single “Last Train Home” with its synth stabs and Peter Gabriel-esque arrangements, definitely sounds of the era. To really get the sound, Mayer even got famed producer Don Was to record his latest album.
The jangly acoustic guitars that open “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does” easily comes across as a John Mayer-stamped ballad, but the light touches of synths takes it back even further and stir up memories of our own teenage years as we listened to the clean cut pop rock of the likes of Breathe and Johnny Hates Jazz. Ditto for Mayer’s “New Light.”
Mayer aces the adult contemporary sound with instantly likeable ballads “Why You No Love Me” and “Shot In The Dark.” Meanwhile it’s Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, and as Mayer himself admits, “Maybe Alan Parsons (Project). Or (Steve Miller Band’s) Abracadabra.
Big acoustic ballads like “I Guess I Just Feel Like” and “Til The Right One Comes” and songs like “Carry Me Away” (with its lyric hook “You’re just the kind of crazy I’ve been looking for”) and stirring “All I Want Is To Be With You” (which somehow sounds like a countrified “All I Want Is You” by U2), with its stinging outro guitar solo that seem to dissipate into the ether as it fades out, are all easily likable tunes regardless what sound aesthetic Mayer is going for.
It is evident that John Mayer exerted great effort to achieve the vibe he’s going for in “Sob Rock.” It’s not just copying a sound. As he said in the Guitar World interview, “It took forever to work on these songs. It was like, here’s the three-and-a-half minutes – how do you inject it with as many moments and layers as possible? How can you just keep jam-packing it with payoffs?”
“I’m setting out to please you as much as I possibly can with the art of melody.”
That he did.