Defending John Mayer (not that he needs it…)
Apologies for the lengthy absence. Am finally carving out some time to write a few things and hope to have a series of posts for your delectation as the week progresses. New theme! Prize, as yet unspecified, for the first person to tell me where the image above was taken and why it is significant.
I am something of a John Mayer apologist. I bashed this out in response to a Tumblr post but I thought I’d put it over here where more people can read it in its own right.
The assertion, by Kasey Anderson (singer, songwriter, Tumblr-er) was that John Mayer engaged in “incessant blustering about making art that is ‘true to himself,'” only to then “produce […] banal, toothless music.” Anderson then suggest that “no one would begrudge Mayer his success were he just to say, “I like making a shitload of money and I’ve figured out a way to do it on a consistent basis.”” However, he puts forward an alternative:
Maybe, when John Mayer reaches deep within himself and grapples with The Muse, or whatever it is he needs to do in order to make his art, what comes out is that tepid vanilla custard sound. Maybe that’s his passion. If that is the case, then The John Mayer isn’t infuriating at all; he’s just sad.
Every interview, live comment and “exclusive in studio video” I’ve seen suggests that Mayer is being honest, or at least thinks he is. He believes his own hype. He really does look inside himself and discover dross like Your ‘Body is a Wonderland’ and ‘Waiting on the World to Change’, both of which sound like they belong on a Sting solo album.
That said, sometimes he comes up with some genuinely satisfying stuff; I am very fond of most of Heavier Things; ‘Clarity’ is gorgeously produced and has a fantastic horn section, ‘Bigger Than My Body’ needs some sort of award for the best use of an innovative effect (the AdrenaLinn modulation on the intro).
Other mitigating factors include his lovely acoustic cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’’ and his employment of Robbie McIntosh (ex-Pretenders amongst other things) as a sideman.
In fact, his taste in collaborators seems to be sublime. Take this next video for example, which ably demostrates both Mayer being, well, a bit of a pretentious fool in front of the camera, and more importantly his ability to select phenomenal players (Charlie Hunter playing a unique hybrid 8-string bass/guitar), get in an artistic space with them and create something pretty remarkable. It is perhaps a sad indictment of the all-pervasive nature of our celebrity-stalking, gossip-mag-driven culture that you can’t help wondering whether it’s about Jennifer Aniston or Taylor Swift. But suppress that instinct, look past the hideous guitar faces and silly hair and enjoy the music for a moment.
I genuinely admire him for using his newfound wealth and status to call Steve Jordan and Pino Pallidino and play Hendrix songs and going on tour as a power trio. It’s as if he turns round to the world and says “Ha! I fooled you all into buying that crap and now I’m going to play the blues with two of the best session players on the planet and you are going to lap it up like the sheep that you are… *evil laugh*”. In fact, I wouldn’t bet against him having said something very much like that.
The moment I really got John Mayer, or at least fully appreciated what he’s capable of on a good day, was when I got a copy of Where The Light Is, his live DVD. Over the course of one night at the Nokia Theatre in LA, he goes from solo acoustic to blues trio to full band and horn section, sweeping from the earliest days of coffee-shop busking to his biggest hits via a couple of Hendrix covers and the aforementioned Tom Petty song. Equally lovely is the never-before-recorded In Your Atmosphere, for which I have a distinct soft spot. Don’t we all have a town, a city skyline, a motorway junction that reminds us of something long gone? That provokes that feeling of melancholic nostalgia?
Later, over the introduction to a song with the trio, he says
Let me first say how wonderful it feels to know that its 2007 and we just launched into a slow blues and 7000 people in LA went nuts; all is not lost.
Yeah it’s corny, but he has a point; there are not many people outside Eric Clapton (and conceivably Joe Bonamassa, who appears to be on an arena tour, something I cannot fathom…) who can do that any more, and if it takes having to hear ‘Your Body is a Wonderland’ on the radio every once in a while for that to happen, I think I can handle that.