John Mayer takes the long road
Soft-rocking, blues-bending, singer-songwriter John Mayer’s psyche is still smarting from the reaction to his getting too carried away with candid off-the-cuff remarks in high profile Playboy and Rolling Stone interviews he gave during the first Obama administration, but he may have found the redemption he seeks in his The Search for Everything song cycle. Released in “waves” four songs at a time—the third wave came last month when Search was released as a full-length album, featuring the final four songs—Mayer is once again blending blues and soft rock as he steps into the spotlight at a solo artist for the first time in four years.
Not for long though, as Mayer joins Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir on May 27 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to launch a two-month tour as Dead & Company. He resumes The Search for Everything Tour during the summer, but it’s clear that Mayer can’t get enough of the Grateful Dead alumni project that formed in 2015. Still, as he’s said in recent interviews, he’d like to be A-list again, too. This requires him to switch to John Mayer the celebrity, who emerged rolling in bedsheets with an actress for the video of “Your Body’s a Wonderland” and dated Jennifer Love Hewitt, Minka Kelly, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry as the paparazzi looked on.
It’s as if Mayer has two personalities fighting for control. One wants to walk Eric Clapton’s path and step out of the spotlight so only his virtuosic guitar playing speaks for him. The other loves attention and mass adulation, and speaks to fans directly on Twitter. In March, he played host to spontaneous Q&As twice (March 4’s launched with, “OK, fine, Q&A time. Hit me.”) and personally answered questions from dozens of fans. Sometimes he’ll mark an occasion (“Well… hmm. I just finished my record. I guess I just… eat dinner? That sounds like something people do. I’ll just go eat.”), but often he’s being his usual abstract, absurdist self (“There sure are some fragrant seat belts out there”) that causes some to see him as flaky.
The Search for Everything finds him looking inward and expanding on his classic sound after the country-tinged, Laurel Canyon-influenced Born and Raised (2012) and Paradise Valley (2013). Those albums were part of a relative withdrawal from public life that allowed him to explore new styles, and perhaps himself. For the Search songs, sometimes it seems like he wrote after immersing himself in Hall & Oates and Marvin Gaye (“Still Feel Like Your Man” and “Moving On and Getting Over”), while other times feel like he’s in a Fleetwood Mac/Eagles zone. (“Emoji of a Wave” starts out like “Landslide” while the piano opening to “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” is reminiscent of “Desperado.”)
It’s unmistakably John Mayer though, even if being John Mayer means finding identity by continuously jumping the fence between pop stardom and respect of his peers. It’s always seemed very important to Mayer that mainstream audiences see him strapped to a guitar, but he really doesn’t have anything to prove if ex-members of the Grateful Dead accept him as an equal. John Mayer arrived musically a long time ago. He’ll fully arrive as an artist when he stops caring about how he’s perceived.
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