John Mayer’s latest album has a very familiar sound – and it’s both a good thing and a bad thing
After a four-year hiatus, this Strat-wielding singer-songwriter is back with his seventh studio album, “The Search for Everything.”
Divided into three EP’s or “waves”, as he likes to call it, the album is a quartet of songs released per “wave,” finishing it off with twelve tracks. You might ask, “why not just release it all at once like normal artists do?” Explaining this methodology, Mayer says that “there were too many songs to ever get out the door at once.” And it makes sense. The human ear can only take up so much music in one go, and this strategy is a brilliant move in order to give proper exposure to each of the material he’s releasing.
Following this is “Moving on and Getting Over.” The song opens with Mayer’s signature Stratocaster tone full of blues elements – reminiscent of his hit album Continuum, released in 2006. This should be no surprise, as the Continuum crew – Pino Palladino on bass and Steve Jordan on drums – have been with John in recording this song.
“Changing,” on the other hand gently starts with Mayer’s vocals and him on solo keys (yes, he also plays keys). It gradually ascends to an orchestra-like ambiance, complete with concert-room reverb and wind instruments resonating in the background. The net effect is a very powerful sounding track.
The last record in this wave is “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.” Again, it noticeably borrows a lot of musical elements from the Continuum-era Mayer – from the whistling in the song’s opening (which reminds you of the “Where the Light Is” concert version of Stop This Train), to the soothing yet melancholic piano, reminiscent of Dreaming with a Broken Heart. It is a combination of very familiar rudiments and fresh musical elements, producing an entirely individual piece. Personally, I think this song best exemplifies Mayer’s lyrical genius. It sounds very simple, yet filled with visuals and metaphors about time and the cosmos (“A great big bang and dinosaurs / fiery raining meteors / it all ends unfortunately / But you’re gonna live forever in me I guarantee, just wait and see”) – a very creative way of saying “we’re done, but I still remember you”. Simply Mayer Magic.
Wave Two opens with “Still Feel Like Your Man,” which is sort of a ‘cousin’ to Moving On and Getting Over, in terms of musical features and over-all feel. Despite this, the song is unique in its own right and distinctively beautiful in its own way. Listeners are greeted with a soft piano accompanied by layered vocals. The song transitions to a catchy groove, thanks to John’s impeccable guitar chops. Interestingly, the song’s music video has him dancing with pandas.
Fun fact: the song is about Katy Perry, who he dated on and off from 2012 until their split in 2014. Mayer was quoted in an interview, saying: “Who else would I be thinking about?” he said about Perry. “And by the way, it’s a testament to the fact that I have not dated a lot of people in the last five, six years. That was my only relationship. So it’s like, give me this, people.” The couple also had a duet together, called “Who You Love,” released in 2013 as part of the Paradise Valley album.
Next up is “Emoji of a Wave.” The title seems bizarre, but John seems to have pulled it off due to the amount of positive web-buzz it created. What makes it more interesting is that the actual emoji of a wave looks strikingly similar to the album art of Volume Six of his 2004 live album As/Is, which in turn, is based on “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” the most famous work of Japanese artist Hokusai. Talk about being a culture vulture.
Musically, the song sounds like a lullaby, but in a good way. It starts off with a clean acoustic guitar playing by Mayer, supplemented with a lyre-sounding instrument echoing off single notes. Although suffering as well from a repetitive chorus like Love on the Weekend, the song is nevertheless resoundingly light and easy on the ears.
Following this is “Roll It on Home,” which has a remarkably country sound to it, that it almost feels like it should have been included in either Born and Raised or Paradise Valley. While listening to it, the track gives the audience a laid-back and relaxed image of a meadow with cool wind breezing through – evocative of an image of Montana. The song is probably a look-back during his troubled moments when he moved to Montana, where he made Born and Raised and Paradise Valley. Asked about the song, John was quoted as saying: “It’s rivers and cows, there’s no sexuality there.”
Then we have “Helpless,” which seems to be off-compass as compared to all other songs in the entire album. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it might be a precursor to a departure from his usual sound. Hopefully it leads to a shift, much like what he did when he transitioned from pop tunes in Room for Squares and Heavier Things, to more dramatic, bluesy harmonies in Continuum. Who knows?
“Rosie,” perhaps another emotion-filled song, is about a man regretting and trying to save a break-up. “Rosie” is the name of the woman with whom the man (the narrator) had a relationship. In his Twitter account, Mayer said about “Rosie”: “I wanted to write a soulful song about a guy who’s a drunk selfish idiot. (Not me.) He’s a sweet lunkhead (Me.)” Interestingly, “Rosie” sounds a lot like Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone.”
“In The Blood” on the other hand, is likewise emotion-filled – but with a different kind. It’s about being human; it’s about experiences typical of a human person. The song illustrates John’s own personal issues in his life; it’s autobiographical. Redditors speculate that the song is about a hit on his mother, who’s had troubles with her relationship with his father. Sheryl Crow did vocals for this song, but she is not officially credited for it.
Lastly is the quite mouthful “Theme From ‘The Search For Everything’.” The song is a 2-minute instrumental composed of acoustic guitars, melodic voices in harmony, and orchestra-sounding percussion. A good listen is definitely recommended.
So why is this new album both a good thing and a bad thing? Bad thing first: there is really no ‘new-sounding’ material, in the strictest sense of the word, for us. Most of the songs sound very familiar – the usual John Mayer we grew up with and loved. The good thing, on the other hand, is that that sound is the Mayer sound. That is what catapulted him to one of the most influential singer, songwriter, and guitarist of this generation.
Looks like John has succeeded in failing to search for a new sound in this album, and we’re glad that he did. Mayer fans, rejoice. P
You may listen to The Search for Everything on Spotify: