John Mayer - Sob Rock Music Album Reviews

John Mayer - Sob Rock Music Album Reviews
Sob Rock is the sound of a man alone in his success. Even if this is one of John Mayer’s stronger albums, the whole thing feels self-consciously minor.

Let’s say you play your cards right and end up like John Mayer. Two decades in, you’ve amassed a solid run of hits and a devoted community of fans who will buy tickets any time you’re in town. You’ve got some baggage; who doesn’t? Some notable exes have painted damning portraits of you in a small playlist’s worth of songs, and you’ve said a couple indefensible things to the press that follow you like hellhounds wherever you go. At the same time, you’ve got a dignified side gig as the touring guitarist for a classic rock institution, the kind of role that you can age into gracefully, gainfully employed without ever having to step back into the spotlight. Where do you go next?

“I’m somewhere between a pop artist and a jam band—maybe closer to pop artist,” Mayer recently surmised, and this particular niche has thrust the guitar virtuoso from Billboard charts and magazine covers squarely into the Neil Young-buying-ownership-in-a-model-train-company phase of his career. (For Mayer, now 43, it’s all about luxury watches.) Yes, he’s got a new record, but even that seems like a hobby, something to pass the time. The earliest single arrived in spring 2018, because why not? The suave, undeniable “New Light” sounds no less relevant today than it did back then, and its inclusion proves that Mayer can work at his own pace—trends, release cycles, and global pandemics be damned.

None of this is to suggest that Sob Rock, his eighth studio album, is thoughtless. In fact, its vision is so complete and confident that it pretty much writes its own review. (Judging by the title, bargain bin stickers on the cover, and fake pull-quotes on the merch, the tone is not so enthusiastic.) To make this music, Mayer gave himself a prompt. Instead of an artist who dominated VH1 and frat houses in the early 2000s, what if he’d emerged during the classic rock era and found himself, decades later, as a late-career musician attempting to update his sound? “Pretend someone made a record in 1988 and shelved it,” he explained, “and it was just found this year.” It’s an intriguing concept until you realize that, even in his fantasies, John Mayer is making music doomed to be lost to time, sapped of inspiration and out of his element.

Before we get any further, I will note that the ’80s staples Mayer references on Sob Rock in overt, almost shockingly accurate ways represent a moment in popular music I have a lot of fondness for. It was a time when new technology allowed career artists to embellish their music with smooth, luxurious textures, better suited for the digital precision of CDs than the analog crackle of vinyl. Blockbusters like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life, and Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence—all contented statements from well-established rock acts in the mid-to-late-’80s—come to mind. There is a quiet triumph in hearing someone like Mayer using his substantial resources to recreate this sound, bringing in first-hand witnesses like producer Don Was, bassist Pino Palladino, and keyboardist Greg Phillinganes. If you’re going to go in, go all the way.

Nevertheless, it’s a crowded field. Over the past decade, indie lifers like the War on Drugs, Destroyer, Bon Iver, M83, Jenny Lewis, Cass McCombs, the Killers, and Tame Impala have all taken artful inspiration from roughly the same time period; upstarts like Westerman and Bullion have offered their own underground perspective on it; Taylor Swift herself studied the era for a next-level pop breakthrough, going so far as to name an album after a specific year; Weezer landed their biggest hit in ages with a cover of Toto’s “Africa.” In this context, once the novelty of its production wears off—the stadium synths and slick guitar solos, auxiliary percussion and yacht-paced, mid-tempo cruise—Sob Rock reveals itself to be just another John Mayer album, a work to be judged on its own terms.

This is the part of the review where I should dissect the songwriting, drawing attention to the ways that Mayer misses the mark. But does anyone need me to explain why it’s uncomfortable, maybe even offensive, to hear an adult man from Connecticut singing a chorus of “Why you no love me? Why you no even care?” in a song called “Why You No Love Me”? Do you want me to point out how, despite the Joshua Tree gravitas of the closing “All I Want Is to Be With You,” the melody sounds distractingly similar to “I Want It That Way”? Do you need a music critic to annotate the gaping hole at the heart of the quasi-confessional strummer “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” whose profound melancholy feels as vague as its title?

These are obvious flaws—all reasons why, unlike the records that inspired it, you probably won’t hear artists decades from now dreaming up their own Sob Rocks. But surprisingly—just like the music that inspired it—Sob Rock as a whole is immediate and embracing, peaceful and sparkling, like the ocean as viewed from an airplane window. The 10-song, 40-minute album goes down smooth and breezy; its faults are forgivable (except for “Why You No Love Me”) and its highlights are understated and fun. Listen to those elegant turnarounds from the chorus to the central riff of “Wild Blue.” Tune in for the slow build of “Shot in the Dark,” with a gorgeous, wordless accompaniment from Maren Morris and a staccato string part airlifted from the Blue Nile. Soak in the moment halfway through when Mayer proudly crosses the “Every Breath You Take” threshold, slipping from pro-forma romance—“I want you in the worst way”—to full-on stalker: “Is the gate code still your birthday?”

This willingness to be ridiculous—to merge his outsized personality with the tasteful, somewhat anonymous adult contemporary ballads he’s written since day one—feels like a small breakthrough. “When I’m making this record right now,” Mayer reported a few months back, “I’m laughing out loud. And I’m not even sure if it’s because I think it’s great, or because I think it’s insane.” The truth is he could have amped it up in both departments—more hunger to prove himself beyond his influences, more fearlessness to work outside his comfort zone. Even if this is one of his stronger albums, the whole thing feels self-consciously minor. When Mayer gets back on stage this summer, he’ll be accompanying Dead & Co. for another trek, ripping solos through their classics instead of standing by his new material. And, frankly, who can blame him?

Still, Mayer’s insight suggests that at the heart of Sob Rock lies a desire not just to satisfy himself but to actually delight himself, to elicit a new enthusiasm for his work. What other metric could there be for a John Mayer album in 2021? And if he doesn’t clear that bar then, really, what does he have? Always neurotic and aggressively self-aware, he has already buffered himself against criticism, appearing on the defensive before the album was even out: “I want to get in trouble. I want someone to tell me this is shit,” he told Zane Lowe. “It’s called Sob Rock because it’s a shitpost.” But it’s not shit, and it’s not even that provocative. By design, Sob Rock is the sound of a man alone in his success, playing against himself on the world’s most expensive chess board—oohing and ahhing at his own prowess, scratching his chin meaningfully then cracking a joke when things get too intense. He seems comfortable and complacent. Never losing, never winning.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
John Mayer - Sob Rock Music Album Reviews John Mayer - Sob Rock Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on July 23, 2021 Rating: 5


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