Mayer's newest album engages with his past

NOSELL

NOSELL
Sony Music

 

Monday, April 17, 2017 - 4:40pm

John Mayer, a guitar prince whose songs tend to feature a plethora of over-dramatic lyrics, just released an album called The Search for Everything. As one might expect, it’s full of heartbroken ballads that, save for a few tracks, all seem to resemble each other. Still, Mayer’s most recent work marks a positive shift in his tumultuous career, while introducing an inventive mode of releasing new music.

Abandoning the sound of his past two LPs and harkening back to late 2000s albums Battle Studies and Continuum, Mayer’s latest release demonstrates that he’s ready to reflect on his hectic and highly controversial past.

In 2010, Mayer was the subject of two disastrous interviews — one with Playboy and one with Rolling Stone. In both interviews, Mayer was a publicist’s worst nightmare, speaking explicitly about his past relationships and making controversial statements regarding race, to name a couple examples. As expected, the public backlash was immense.

So what did he do? He moved to Montana, put away the sexually charged ballads and released two folk rock albums. Avoiding head-on confrontation with the controversies surrounding him, for nearly a decade Mayer decidedly left his past behind and reinvented himself with a much safer sound.

Now, seven years after those career-crippling interviews, Mayer has decided to face the demons of his past. In an interview with The New York Times published in March, he explains his 2010 actions as a repercussion of his obsession with avoiding “clichéd rock star” status. In short, he ran his mouth because he wanted to be different.

By finally speaking up on his past, as well as incorporating elements from his pre-hiatus era, Mayer seems poised to shed the shadow that has hung over him for the better part of a decade. Although his new music is admittedly more pop driven than career centerpiece Continuum, Mayer has rediscovered a similar inspiration in love and romantic relationships. He pointedly returns to the public declaration of his personal life that originally made him so famous and so controversial.

There are stark differences between now and then though. For one, Mayer has undoubtedly matured. Album highlight “In the Blood” is comprised mostly of rhetorical questions, but does so in a way that promotes soul-searching and self-awareness. Finale track “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” suggests that Mayer is fully conscious of the way his past relationships made him who he is, something he surely wouldn’t have admitted in 2010.

The Search for Everything also introduces a new procedure for the rollout of Mayer’s music. He partitioned the 12 new songs into three groups of four, releasing the first wave in January, the second in February and the full album this past week. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Mayer described his motivation for this strange mode of packaging as his belief that the songs “deserved to be seen without distraction from … the barrier to entry of so many songs all at once.”

In an era marked by consumers replacing long form news articles with abbreviated numbered lists, the division of the songs is an educated move. So many times the best songs on albums get skipped over in favor of the singles because so few consumers take the time to listen to the entirety of an LP. By releasing his work piecemeal, Mayer looks to avoid this fate.

Yet the songs themselves don’t demand concentrated listening. They fall short in comparison to his 2000s era releases and do little to further the comeback narrative he’s been pushing. The lyrics are riddled with clichés, the guitar playing lacks thrill and, even after a few listens, the melodies fail to root themselves in the listener’s mind.

The Search for Everything is great in theory, but poor in execution. Perhaps this is a product of the fact that the new, levelheaded John Mayer is not nearly as invigorating as the manic, attention-seeking one.