ALBUM: The Search for Everything: Wave II
ARTIST: John Mayer
EP release date: February 24, 2017
Wave II of John Mayer’s musical odyssey entitled The Search for Everything was released on February 24. Clocking in at a brisk fifteen minutes, it’s another set of ear-worms that dig and deliver, and corroborates the “this is gonna be good” feeling we all got upon hearing the first wave (the album is to be released in four-track waves until it stands as a full fourteen song album).
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mayer describes the album as being “beyond a break-up record”: he and his therapist agree that it’d be more aptly described as a foray into the metaphysics of loss and absent love. He’s candid in saying that of all the things he’s done in his musical career, this album (which began production in 2014, and has been a constant stir on the stove since then) gives the most accurate depiction of his interior. “For the first time in my life,” he says, “[I believe that] I recorded exactly what I was feeling.”
1] The EP begins with Still Feel Like Your Man, a song with an irresistible R&B groove, made rich by a burbling, heavy bass-line and doubled-up vocals ala MJ. The song is seamlessly produced and never leaves the pocket. Layers are added unobtrusively, perfectly enhancing the simple but effective lyrics and melody. The song has alot of “seasoning”: Mayer deconstructed and reconstructed it more times than he has any other song, reworking drumlines, basslines, words, and effects for years: all for the sake of tweaking it to the point of getting it to the point of sounding “[punchy] but also freaky … [like] ancient Japanese R&B.” He succeeded, and the song is as punchy and freaky as any brain could conceive (within the realms of reason). The resultant flavor takes you in with a pop, and sticks with you like a mouthful (earful) of salted dark chocolate.
2] The second song is called Helpless. Guitar chucks and a classic drum beat provide an emphatic opening: it’s a fail-proof formula to get even the squarest of hips swaying. Mayer knows how to lean into a rock tune, and he pulls out the stops on a dramatic, prolonged bridge that tags with a breathy “Help me!” reminiscent of Gaye. Thematically, the song poses the cynical, fragile question of whether or not one is beyond saving.
3] The third song is the curiously entitled Emoji of a Wave. It’s a gentle tune, lush with orchestration and background vocals: one can imagine a bare-bones version being sung in earlier days by James Taylor, one of the Greats of folk musicianship whom Mayer has no doubt absorbed. Unlike Taylor, though, Mayer puts puts more vigor behind his vocal delivery, punctuating each chorus with an urgent swell, and that’s what saves Wave from becoming too sleepy.
4] Roll it On Home closes things out for this set. Rick Nelson got tangled up in heartache at the local bar while on the way to the Garden Party – that’s the vibe seeping from this tune, sans Yoko Ono (and with a slightly more enthusiastic honkey-tonk bend). “You’ve been here so long tonight’s already yesterday,” Mayer sings to some lonesome soul slumped by the jukebox, pining after thwarted love and attempting to numb the sting of loneliness with Journey and Blue Ribbon. Think JJ Cale and Eric Clapton, jean jackets and soggy cigarettes. A swell end to another spot-on set of tunes.
There’s nothing new under the sun: but some things are much, much more worth repeating and rephrasing than others. Though I hear lots of influences in Mayer’s project, I mention them not to devalue his ingenuity, but rather to stress it: to be able to synthesize so many sounds, styles, rhythms and moods is awe-inspiring, as is the painstaking process of songwriting and producing to which Mayer submits everything he creates.