John Mayer is one of those people whose so brilliant you can’t really blame him for being kind of a douche. His mastery of the Pop hook, his chops as a guitar player, his genre elasticity and the all-around adventurous spirit with which he approaches music…he’s easy to hate but equally easy to admire. After detours into Country and Folk with his last two LPs – 2013’s exceptional Paradise Valley and the previous year’s solid-but-less-exceptional Born & Raised – Mayer is one of the artists whose new tunes I’ve been most anxiously anticipating.
Wave One of The Search For Everything (which is Mayer’s seventh full length) is the official kick off of an exciting, unorthodox release strategy in which the Connecticut-born “recovering ego addict” will drop four songs a month until the whole LP is completely“ out”. A n intriguing approach from one of the elite “so-successful-he can-do-whatever-he-wants” members of the industry.
Reviewing four short songs is, well, exactly that. It’s basically four intertwined track reviews. So we might as well start with “Love on the Weekend”, the lead single Mayer premiered back in November. This track is a resurrection of the warm, intimate Rom-Com relatability of his debut Room for Squares – Mayer sings matter-of-factly about the every day ins and outs of relationships and packages it with bubbly melodies like only a Pop genius like him can. He makes romance sound so effortless and so casual with a lovely, soft-spoken piano line that’s accentuated by sleek stabs of clean guitars.
“Love on the Weekend” definitely feels like a deliberate, conscious return to simplicity for the songwriter – Mayer’s music hasn’t sounded this stripped down in over a decade (though the quaint Born & Raised was similarly straightforward – just in a whole new style, mind you.) I can only fault it for being TOO MUCH of a “Pandora station for a froyo shop” type song. It’s pleasant as can be, but it does have a certain wallpaper quality to it.
The opening cut “Moving On and Getting Over” is a much more interesting affair. Stylistically it’s an intersection of Heavier Things and Continuum. What immediately caught my attention is Mayer’s use of octave vocal harmonies in the verses – the harmonizing pitches are so far apart that it creates the illusion of two separate singers in two separate moods trying to express the same thing. It’s a fucking cool effect. Lyrically, it’s an understated meditation on the aftermath of a break up – the point where you THINK you’re ready to move on but you’re still, as John himself puts it, “One text away from being back again”. And the funky guitars that accompany these sentiments tie a neat little bow around a superb song.
But it’s the tender, heartwarming piano ballad “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” that steals the show. There’s something so wistful about Mayer’s performance as he whistles his way through an unforgettable melody with one particularly beautiful chromatic passing tone (in laymen’s terms: that one note that doesn’t sound like it “fits”). And there’s one lyric that practically brings me to tears: “Life is full of sweet mistakes/and love’s an honest one to make”. Just so glad John Mayer thought of it first and not Nicholas Sparks or some other hokey sap.
Unfortunately, the one BIG dip in quality is “Changes”, which could’ve easily found a nice, comfy spot on the cutting room floor. It’s bland and predictable, with a refrain that isn’t strong enough to be repeated as many times as it is. And let’s not even begin to dissect this gem: “ I see the sky changing/it reminds me of my changing”. Ugh, what the fuck. But hey, I’m not at all mad at that Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque guitar tone in the solo though!
To be honest, it’s tough to review a small fourteen-minute chunk of a record. ‘Cause fascinatingly enough, even though “Wave One” had some mixed results (Mayer batted .750 with me if you’re keeping score), if the next three “Waves” – or however many it ends up being – are super consistent, then that still adds up to a great album! So we’ll see. I certainly commend John Mayer for throwing us all for a loop, and it’s going to make my job that much more delightfully puzzling in the coming months. Until Wave Two, John!