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You Mayer May Not Agree: The One In Which I Finally See The Appeal Of John Mayer

For the longest time, I was dismissive about John Mayer. He’s a discount Dave Matthews. He’s not the heir to B.B. King, despite what some have said. He’s not a guitar g-d, he’s a suburban white kid from CT who writes radio-ready pop love music and got famous.

Given time and exposure, I then ran a deeper gamut on how I felt about John Mayer. I’ve disliked him, been indifferent, and enjoyed him.

Poor guy, I’m sure he cares.

***

I have only posted about him three times in the whole history of this blog (est. 2006), at the end of 2017, so I must have been circling him around then…

HERE, on 2017-11-18, I made a post about where I was with his stuff at the time. I did enjoy that Someday I’ll Fly documentary, though…

HERE, on 2017-12-12, I reviewed Room For Squares (his first LP). I liked it well enough, and seemed to tell myself I’d dig deeper. Of course, it took me a while to get around to doing that.

HERE, on 2017-12-31, I actually included his album, The Search For Everything, in my Best of 2017 post. Somehow, I never reviewed it for the site, though. Great work, past-self! 

***

TODAY, though, I know I’ve done my research. I’ve now heard all of his studio albums enough times to see my earlier criticisms dissipate. And I’ve watched enough live performances on YouTube to genuinely be very impressed.

Perhaps by now, here in 2020, I’ve matured in the past three years since my last post about him, mellowed like the entry level fine wine that I am. Maybe it just wasn’t for me back then, but it is now. That can happen, and it’s great when it does because discovering new-to-me music never gets old.

I have learned, too, that you need to not pay attention to some of the stuff that happened after he exploded into fame, separate the man’s experiences and media attention from the music as much as you can manage it, given its self-reflective lyrics, and just let the tunes stand on their own. 

Whatever the case, I now know that if you listen closely, these are very smart, tuneful, earworm songs. Put the good headphones on, and you’ll discover the intricacies of his excellent guitar work, and his superb tone. Refuse to let it become background noise and you’ll actually come away quite impressed, overall. You’ll catch yourself humming his melodies days later.

Yes, there are tracks that don’t stand out, but every artist has those, especially compared to the hits (and he’s had many). But Mayer’s deep cuts are also worth a listen, because maybe on one day a song won’t resonate but then, on another, that same track hits you like a truck and you want it on repeat.

Yes, some of his radio hits are over-played and it’s easy to be sick of them yet, still, within the context of the albums, they fit into the overall picture and are a welcome part of this complete breakfast.

Yes, there are albums that I like better than others, but again, maybe later they’ll speak to me differently and the lights will go on.

Yes, his work is like listening to a well-curated, precisely-crafted ongoing diary project, open and honest and true.

You know something? I think I’m all the way there, now.

***

IN SUM:

So, officially, here in November of 2020, I am now a pretty unshakeable John Mayer fan. It took me a good long while to get here, and I was pretty derisive about some of the claims about him when I got started with this. But, as I stated above, given time and repeat listens, at some point I actually got it. It clicked, and I get it now. I apologize, John. It was me, not you.

***

I’ve posted this before, but I think this documentary is excellent and you should watch it.

John Mayer – Room For Squares

You may recall that I recently watched a documentary about Mayer on the Tubes Of You, said I was gonna get into his albums. I have two here (this one, and Heavier Things), so I thought I’d take a listen.

I bopped along absent-mindedly to most of it. Of course I knew the hits (Your Body Is A Wonderland, Why Georgia) because our piped-in work music plays them relentlessly. Well the deep cuts fit the same form, so it’s a cohesive record. There’s no doubting that the man can play guitar, as any live footage I’ve seen will attest, but this record doesn’t really show off those skills in a wankery way… it’s a band effort overall and that’s cool too.

As for his lyrics, I can’t tell if the man is telling it like it is (as he seemed to in the documentary) or if he’s got his head so far up his own ass and this is all just masturbatory. I cut him a break given that this is his first album, early days, so maybe his song-writing will get stronger as he goes along. The music was good, great in spots, even, though it does seem to be playing it fairly safe in a jazzy pop rock way. Future dentist office waiting room music, you know? But I thought the lyrics might’ve been a wee bit too much minutiae not enough meat. Says I, who probably could not do better, but still.

Of course, I found lots of love for Mayer online, but I also found detractors. Such is the way, I suppose, with artists who’ve exploded into fame as he has. You can imagine what the fans say, but one bit I found I reproduce here just for shits and giggles:

“Singer-songwriter John Mayer fills his debut, Room for Squares, with pep talks to and advertisements for himself. Even when questioning his young life, Mayer’s doubts come off glib; not one second of “Why Georgia” convinces that “the stirring in my soul” keeps the artiste awake at night. Between his Dave Matthews-wannabe vocals and the accomplished but bland lite rock of his band, he could be just as easily offering tunes for hire to a coming-of-age network series as making a stand for himself and his worldview. The premise of “City Love”–that Mayer couldn’t find his way around Manhattan until finding a girlfriend to root him to the place–is nice but not edifying. “My Stupid Mouth” is similarly fuzzy; letting us in on just what he said to alienate a dinner partner would’ve gone a long way toward fleshing out the song’s pat self-deprecation. Ultimately, Mayer comes off less like a commiserating friend than a blabbermouth who’s forever forgetting there’s someone else in the room. And instead of whining about a discarded lunch box (“83”), dude, learn to brown-bag it the way the rest of us did. –Rickey Wright”

Haha. So, in sum? It’s a decent record. I played it with the good headphones on, and it was alright. Not sure how much I’ll play it, going forward, but hey. And I’m gonna try the second record too, see if there’s growth.

 

PS: I also learned that this album was named in reference to Hank Mobley’s 1963 Blue Note album No Room For Squares. I don’t quite make the connection between the two, but there ya go.

John Mayer

Of course I chose a pic where he’s playing my favourite guitar.

Watching guitar-geek videos online, I found these guys in England who are huge John Mayer fans. Their enthusiasm actually made me wonder about my in-passing impression of him as a discount, safe-pop Dave Matthews.

I found a 2014 documentary (below) on the tubes of you, thought I’d see what the fuss was about. I gave myself ten minutes just to check it out… and ended up staying for the duration.

There seems to be something genuine in him, something clear-eyed and fearless enough to follow his heart towards what he wants to do, even if it means he breaks away from what worked before. It’s a constant mission to use music to define and express who he is at the time. Creating an autobiography in albums, perhaps.

He went through early (huge) fame, a very public blow-up and retreat, two years of throat surgeries and recoveries, endless collaborations and playing with his heroes and he’s still standing, still making records, still refining and searching.

As he says, “change isn’t a dirty word.” I appreciate the clarity. And there’s no question that the man can play guitar. Think I’ll try an album, see what’s up.

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