Photo Credit: Mark Seliger
What day is today? Let’s consider just how the world is feeling about John Mayer, because that answer may change by tomorrow (and back just as quickly). In terms of just commercial success, Mayer sold fourteen million albums between 2001 and 2009, a period in which physical album sales were rapidly dwindling. Since 2015, Mayer has been a member of the Grateful Dead offshoot Dead & Company (which should, ideally, assure him classic rock credibility) and at one point even found unlikely admiration with hip hop fans.
At the same time, some high-profile romantic relationships (including – though not been limited to – Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Jessica Simpson) have led some to condemn Mayer as being more celebrity than musician, not to mention Mayer himself has made a few public statements which did not go over well. Also, it should be pointed out that as well as Mayer has done – overall – for the past two decades, he has in fact never matched the success of his 2001 debut album Room for Squares.
Which brings us to Sob Rock, Mayer’s eighth studio full-length album (and first in four years). The cover pays unmistakable homage to the type of album design that was typical of male solo artists circa the late ‘70s or ‘80s. However, not that much of the album ends up necessarily reflecting this. Opening cut “Last Train Home” does have the feel of an ‘80s soft rock hit, driven by a steady synth riff (as well as some welcome background vocals by Maren Morris, plus some strong guitar work by Mayer himself). By contrast, the appropriately titled and uptempo track “New Light” is definitely more modern sounding.
The tight and heartfelt “I Guess I Just Feel Like” has a definite Springsteen/Mellencamp feel, along with some atmospheric classic rock elements (probably picked up by Mayer during his time with the Dead) as well as strong guitar work (in both the solo and the extended outro). “Wild Blue”, as the title might suggest, is a bit bluesier. On the subject of John Mellencamp, the title “Shouldn’t Matter But it Does” may be a nod to the former Johnny Cougar’s 1980 release Nothin’ Matters and What if It Did. Still, a few of the lyrics on the mid-tempo acoustic “Shouldn’t Matter” (“It should have been always // It should have been me // We could have been naming baby number three”) might put some listeners off, as will the title alone of the song (get ready to cringe) “Why You No Love Me?”
The lyrics to “Carry Me Away” (“I’m such a bore, I’m such a bummer… // I want someone to make some trouble // Been way too safe inside my bubble”) make the song something of an enigma, between the track being rather “quiet” and the irony of how much the theme contradicts what’s always been Mayer’s public image (maybe it’s his tribute to Morrissey and that ilk?) Album closer “All I Want is to Be With You”, despite the clichéd title, opens with a Western twang and includes some more pronounced instrumental parts. Overall, the slow groove on the song works fairly well as a grand(ish) finale for the album.
All said and done, Mayer framing Sob Rock as a parody or nostalgia trip was unnecessary and just comes off as a gimmick. Sob Rock is tight and overall pleasant but not particularly memorable.