Sob Rock, by John Mayer
This is an album that is cloaked in a bit of ambiguity. What does Sob Rock mean? Is John Mayer making a reference to the downbeat mood of this album (sobbing), either ironic or straightforward, or is he playing to his unsympathetic reputation and comparing himself to an s.o.b.? It is not plain from the contents of this album. Is this album a pastiche or parody of the 80’s guitar-driven rock of albums like Journeyman from Eric Clapton, or is this album an homage to such a tradition and a stellar example of what kind of great album can be made as a throwback to the 1980’s that showcases contemporary songwriting and production but also a lot of excellent looks to the past? It is not plain from the contents of this album. Perhaps this album seeks to have it both ways, being possible to read both as ironic and sarcastic on the one hand but also as a genuine heartfelt effort on the other hand. The same ambiguity that haunts the appraisal of John Mayer as an artist hangs over this album in particular.
This album begins with one of my favorite singles from last year, “Last Train Running,” with Maren Morris, a gorgeous song about time running out and the longing for love. “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does,” reflects on the end of a relationship and the pain that comes from a lack of honest and open communication about what is going on wrong. “New Light,” a standalone single from a couple of years ago, takes on a new context as a pensive and reflective song about the way we tend to get frozen in pictures of the past and not seen in a new light that fits in well with the album as a whole. “Why You No Love Me” is a slow reflection on the absence of love. “Wild Blue” is a dreamy but also somewhat melancholy reflecting on the single life. “Shot In The Dark” is a touching song about the chancy and unpredictable nature of relationships and longing. “I Guess I Just Feel Like” is a bleak and somewhat desolate reflection on the feeling of despair that the singer has to struggle against. “Til The Right One Comes” is a mid-tempo discussion of the longing for the right one to come even in the face of a brutal and unkind world. “Carry Me Away” talks about the excitement of infatuation and wildness as an antidote to what is safe and comfortable. The album closes with “All I Want Is To Be With You,” which is a slow dirge-like song about the pretense of wanting someone but pretending that one has moved on.
What is it about this album that works despite the fact that John Mayer remains the most unsympathetic part of this album? The album alternates between mid-tempo and slow, is consistently filled with some excellent guitar parts and some other instruments and some stellar production that gives the arrangement some space, and shows Mayer to be his own worst enemy when it comes to love and relationships. If Mayer is by no means a sympathetic figure in this album (or in life), he is certainly painfully relatable if you are someone like this listener at least. This album resembles Battle Studies in its painfully reflective discussion about the problems of life and love that John Mayer faces, but one wonders if Mayer has self-awareness but lacks the ability to make the improvements in his life and attitude that would allow him to rise above the same cycle of disastrously bad romances. Even so, this album is definitely a mood, even if you do not happen to like the artist as a person.