The Search For Everything

John Mayer

Columbia, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


And just like that, John Mayer has matured into an Adult Contemporary artist.

Following this guy’s career has been both rewarding and frustrating for those who came on board way back in the early 2000s. Certainly, Mayer’s approach to acoustic singer-songwriter pop was hardly new then, but as he moved on to blues-rock, white soul, and a sort of folk-rock blend on top of his baseline, you could feel him pushing as an artist beyond what made him famous. As all great artists do, Mayer rarely seemed content professionally, and the chaos of his private life – which was tabloid fodder for a while in the late ‘00s – seemed like a catalyst for more personal and fulfilling music with each successive album (excluding the dreadful Battle Studies, of course).

In short, we have watched Mayer grow up over these last 15 years, so the slide into mature folk-rock on Paradise Valley and Born And Raised was a natural fit; gone were the bluesy guitar solos of Any Given Thursday and the frat-boy-smirk of “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” In its place were subdued songs written by a reflective man filled with regret and hope. The Search For Everything continues this streak of inward-looking, slightly melancholy and rather bland tracks, but the moments that work retain the fire and striving of Mayer’s best work.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Immediately noticeable is the retro vibe of much of the music, with ‘70s soul, pop, and folk-rock informing much of the songwriting, from the laid-back “Still Feel Like Your Man” to the Rolling Stones homage “Helpless,” which is the best song here by far; of course, I actually liked a lot of Steel Wheels, and evidently so did John. The lyrics this time out are pretty standard breakup fare (Mayer and pop star Katy Perry broke up a while back, which drove Mayer to write many of these songs, as breakups often do). It makes the acoustic piano pop single “Love On The Weekend” a bit sad in retrospect, as it seems Mayer wrote this while he was still happy in love, but it also gives him a chance to use the word “serotonin” in a song, so there’s that.

“In The Blood” is another highlight, using a sunny melody and percussive handclaps – plus backing vocals from Sheryl Crow, whose earlier work this song recalls – for a look at what influences a person and if they can really change. Meanwhile, “Theme From ‘The Search For Everything’” is a pleasant, short acoustic solo.

Still, few of these moments really pop out at you, as the overwhelming vibe is laid-back, white-dude pop music. In the 1970s, they called this yacht rock, and Mayer is as tasteful and uppity here as Michael McDonald and Steely Dan were back in the day. Listen to “Moving On and Getting Over” and tell me it wouldn’t fit on the Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute. Songs like the horribly-titled “Emoji Of A Wave,” “Changing,” the Eagles-scented “Roll It On Home,” and “Rosie” just float by like a cloud, while Mayer sips sherry on his boat somewhere.

I know, as a longtime Mayer follower, that this isn’t really who the guy is. In fact, I’m not altogether sure who John Mayer is, and maybe that’s a good thing. He’s certainly willing to own up to his mistakes and the dumbass things he’s said, at least to the media. He’s willing to follow his own musical path despite any outside pressure, which is commendable. And he’s got good taste, chops and a willingness to collaborate. But whatever fire drives his lyrics and his personal life just doesn’t come across in the music of The Search For Everything. The majority of the songs are just too pristine, too polished, too professional to really hit the emotional notes a breakup album demands. It’s not a bad record by any means and it’s one that Mayer fans will embrace as a matter of course, but it’s clear that Mayer needs to get out of this production rut and reclaim some of the grit that informed his best work.

Rating: C

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