- 16 Jul 21
Guitar virtuoso gets comfortable on eighth record.
I get the sense that John Mayer is bored. Everything about his eighth studio album – from its sarcastic title (Sob Rock), to artwork (covered in bargain price stickers), to content – suggests that the 43-year-old rock star has stopped caring about his public and artistic image (if he ever did care). He's been labelled arrogant and full-of-it by the media – who have also in equal measure called him a virtuosic guitar God and a stalwart songwriter – and he's had ex-girlfriends write scathing songs about him. He was the bad boy of pop music for a brief period, circa 2008, but he doesn't really seem to care about any of it anymore.
On Sob Rock, Mayer tries tongue-in-cheek self-awareness on for size, for a change. He even told Zane Lowe that he wants people to tell him Sob Rock is "shit."
"It's called Sob Rock because it's a shitpost," he explained. While there's nothing wrong with sabotaging your image or feigning boredom with your art to prove a point, that only works if it, well...works.
And I'm not sure it does on this album. 'Last Train Home' opens with big, unapologetic 80s synths (which suggest that Mayer might be attempting to experiment) and saccharine lyrics. But it doesn't necessarily hit home; the result – and the subsequent songs – feel much like Sob Rock's predecessors: safe.
That said, escaping his own talent proves semi-impossible for Mayer. There are some beautiful and unexpected moments on Sob Rock, and whether they happened because the man is undeniably talented and can't help it, or because he's smart enough to know where to place them, I don't suppose I'll ever know. 'New Light' has an incredibly catchy bridge, and serves as a small taster of the astonishing guitar skills on which Mayer built his legacy. This is by no means his most guitar heavy album, and he instead opts for sporadically dusting those moments of mastery throughout the album, leaving his listeners (or at least this reviewer) desperate for more.
'Shot In The Dark' has a delightfully chuggy bass line that trails off into the ether – before giving way to the irritatingly nondescript 'I Guess I Feel Like' – and 'Wild Blue' is another gem, one that makes me wistful for Mayer's golden era (Continuum, if you're curious).
But I can't decide if Sob Rock's good moments make up for the bad ones, or just make them worse. 'Why You No Love Me' is pure laziness from a songwriting standpoint. Though it's definitely intended to be, there's nothing remotely tongue-in-cheek or self-aware about a 43-year-old man – who, at one point in his career, was more than capable of producing a fair few poetic turns of phrase in one tune – writing a soft rock track with a chorus like, "why you no love me? Why you no even care?"
Ultimately, this review may be playing into exactly what Mayer hoped for with Sob Rock. And perhaps he has mellowed slightly and is making music he truly believes in. But if he's doing it for the sake of mugging off the critics, perhaps he isn't as self-aware as he thinks. He is privileged to be at a point in his life where he is capable of becoming visibly bored – especially after a year where so many musicians struggled. It seems like the Mayer who made Sob Rock is slightly more concerned with appearing self-aware than making a lasting, worthwhile record. And it's frustrating to watch someone like him give in to complacency.