You’ll be hard pushed to find anyone as sure of themselves as John Mayer. The American singer-songwriter’s place among modern music’s most popular artists is partly the result of his ability to write highly relatable, heartfelt lyrics and perfect pop melodies, using the type of precision guitar-playing usually reserved for blues and country rock musicians. But the main ingredient of his success is his audacious confidence and creative daredevilry, which often sees him go left when everyone else goes right.
On Mayer’s eighth album, ‘Sob Rock’, his first since 2017’s ‘The Search For Everything’, the nimble-fingered rocker’s inclination to buck conformity takes centre stage once more. Opting to throw it back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, instead of chasing today’s sonic trends, Mayer puts breakup music in a retro spin cycle, channelling yacht rock heroes such as Hall & Oates, Foreigner and Michael McDonald.
Album opener ‘Last Train Home’ plays like a companion piece to Toto’s ‘Africa’, with its heavy kick drum and intoxicating synth stabs conjuring up visions of ‘80s Tom Cruise movies; it provides the perfect soundtrack to sip tequila to while nursing post-breakup blues. While ‘Wild Blue’ sees Mayer pick up where the rhythm section of Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans Of Swing’ left off, as he insists: “I found myself when I lost you.”
Not held hostage by one particular genre, ‘Sob Rock’ provides a mixed bag of sounds – sometimes even on the same track. Mayer blends art rock and bluegrass on ’Til The Right One Comes’ and dreamy, new wave pop and blue-eyed soul on ‘Carry Me Away’, while ‘All I Want Is To Be With You’ is a country and western swansong steeped in full-hearted, romantic longing.
But Mayer shines brightest when he dips into his signature pop rock bag and pulls out a masterstroke like ‘New Light’. The one-sided love song’s concise and witty lyrics (“Pushing 40 in the friend zone”), which he delivers on bended knee, pairs perfectly with its spring-loaded backdrop and feel-good zest.
Mayer’s willingness to poke fun at himself lends itself perfectly to the satirical foundation of ‘Sob Rock’. It is by all means a stimulating body of work with ample substance, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Less focused on his innate individuality, it’s a John Mayer passion project that toasts to the good old days, when musicians were more inclined to follow instincts and feelings than clicks and likes.
Release date: July 16
Record label: Columbia