We're the ones your mother warned your about...No, seriously. We are.

From a Life Less Noticed to Heavier Things

Hi, my name is Claris, and I'm a John Mayer addict. How are you today?

I'm also a John Mayer dealer. I've gotten several friends to buy his CDs and join the cult. These are things you should probably know before reading this review.

When I entice my friends to join the Cult o' John, I get the inevitable question - "What's he sound like?" The best answer I've got for them is that John Mayer's music sounds like Sting would if Sting had grown up listening to blues instead of being influenced by them later on in his career, and the lyrics are of a similar theme to Dave Matthews, only with exponentially less pot. (sorry Dave, I love ya & all, but if that's not true, I'd be mighty surprised.)

In his first mass-released CD, Room for Squares, we heard about the "still verdictless life" of someone who had graduated from high school, left the hometown where he'd been a gas station attendant, and bounced from Boston, to Georgia, to New York City. There was a wandering sense of trying to figure out the world and recover from the horrifying trauma that is the reality of growing up in America when you weren't one of the "cool kids". It was a guy trying to figure out what the hell it is that we females want, and at the same time, find out what it was he wanted.

Any Given Thursday let us hear a bit more of an unscripted Mayer - same songs from Squares, along with a few new tunes. He's gone back to where a lot of the music started - Birmingham, Alabama, so that he can say thank you and try to round out what had to have been an incredible, almost frightening whirlwind of a year.

But you have to wonder - what happens when the guy that nobody noticed is suddenly on stage? When you go from being the guy that didn't go to his Senior Prom to being the one that's playing in front of twenty thousand people on stage? That's the John we're hearing from now. The one that now has to reconcile years of a life less noticed to one where everyone knows your name, and the gay boys in the Gap I work at on the weekends easily describe you as "being cuter than any straight man has a right to be" when you come in. (They also say he's welcome back any time, any time at all...) What happens then?

That's when we find out about Heavier Things.

Heavier Things is like the previous two major releases in that it's all John, all the time. According to the credits, he wrote all of the lyrics and music of each and every song, with "Home Life" being the sole exception in that he had a writing partner. In this age of Britney and Beyonce, there's a kind of charm in that. In truth, the CD case itself is a bit of a giveaway that Mayer's not ready for it to be all about him. Inside are the normal song lyrics, but also further rankings of the songs themselves in terms of key, tempo, mood, and location of where they were written, instead of simply more pictures of Mayer, as is often the case. There's only one picture of him which can be found on the the cover - he stands there with nothing but a guitar to shield him from us, the public that can be just as grasping and scary as we are benevolent in our adoration. Now you're going to tell me that "You're just seeing things, Claris - there is, of course, some very creative designer at Sony that was paid to make it look that way - someone else created that impression." And normally, as someone that spends 40 hours a week working as a designer, I'd agree with you. But upon inspection of the credits, the art director for this CD sleeve was....John Mayer. As for the cover photo - incidentally, that's the same guitar that was bought years ago from gas station attendant wages.

But now the gas attendant is a rock star. And while there's still, it would seem, the ongoing problem of trying to figure out women, the vibe of a life searching for the goal has changed. The question becomes that of what to do now that the brass ring is sitting in his hand.

So he approaches that, telling us that there's more to him than just what he looks like, that he's bigger than his body. He's trying to convince his girlfriend to come back to bed after he's pissed her off. He's wondering why, even with everything - his friends, his wallet, his guitar, there's still something missing from his life. Mayer's asking the questions that you hit when you're in your mid-twenties - you've got the degree, the job, there's someone at your side...is this it? Is this all that you've been working to? And is it worth it? Is your life what you wanted? Or is it just what you thought you wanted?

The charm here is that Mayer does it in a disarmingly unassuming manner. The first time I heard "Heavier Things", I sighed at Sophmore Slump. Because there's no "grab" here. Yes, "Bigger than my body" is played on the radio and most likely will become one of those songs that people can't stand to hear anymore because the DJs ran it into the ground. But there's no get up and go to this CD. It has up tempo, but that's not what will make you glad you spent your $12 - $20. This is not an inital hook CD. It's better. This is the CD that you can listen to on repeat for hours while you sit at work writing code, or are home drawing your dog. (of course, that's what I did - what y'all do, in your own homes...I don't want to know...)

The general gist is that you get to sit down and hang out with John for a while so he can play a song or two. The strings are cleanly played, the drums are soft enough not to be overwhelming, and after a while, your heel will start keeping time, even if you've only heard the song once before. There are phrases that, when you've listened to the CD for a while, will jump out at your mind and make you want to write them down just so you won't forget them, but at the same time you're not overwhelmed by pretensious attempts at poetry...instead, you're treated to a comfortable prose.

  • "Clarity" has an understated horn that alludes to his time in Atlanta, as well as hinting that one day, Mayer may indeed end up going the way of Dave Matthews and putting a jazz ensemble behind him.

  • Next up is "Bigger than my Body", which if you haven't heard it by now, have you been under a rock? Or just listening to your CDs in the car all the time, perhaps.

  • To anyone that's heard Any Given Thursday, "Something's Missing" is a familiar song, and it's interesting to hear how it evolved from that summer night in September, 2002 into the studio version heard here, including the last line of "why is it everything I need always seems to come with batteries". (Which, incidentally, Adri saw in my LiveJournal and took to mean something entirely different... dirty mind, that one..)

  • "New Deep" is John trying to cut away the crap in his life and relax, stop worrying. Because not everything is a big!huge!deal! like we have a tendency to make it into. This is also the song containing the line "never gonna find the perfect rhyme, for 'heavier things' " ...which is, of course, where the CD's title come from.

  • "Come Back to Bed" starts out with a twang that hits blues but stops just short of being country despite the use of a steel guitar, and the horns are back in the form a sax and trumpet that try to help John convince his girl that no, really, can we please fight later?

  • Then, if you ever had any doubt about Mayer's being influenced by the 80's sound of Sting and the Police after the number of Sting covers by Mayer that are available on Limewire, the song "Home Life" will erase that. It's a nice way of keeping the smooth, slightly electric undercurrent that British pop gave us in the 80s & early 90s while updating it with the rougher feel that has become prevalent today as acoustic guitars and comfortable jeans come to the forefront.

  • "Split Screen Sadness" boasts some nicely programmed strings in a subtle background after about a minute and a half of simple percussion as the only accompaniment to Mayer's voice while he regrets that he walked away too soon.

  • "Daughters" was the song that, on first listen, made me just stop and concentrate on the song as soon as I got past the first chorus. He quietly reminds parents to remember the impact they have on not only their children, but also the people that their children will meet later in life, and manages to do so in a tone that avoids preaching. You can't help but hear this song and wonder who the girl was. I sent the lyrics of this one to Cat, and got back, "Okay, I think I need to listen to this CD...."

  • "Only Heart" is energetic. It's the song of a guy trying to tour on the road and convince someone that he doesn't have a hoochie in every town, hand to heaven, swear to god. The chorus has a flow to it that breaks up the harder percussion found during the verses so that it's got more to it than just Mayer and his percussionist J.J. Johnson, since the bass is just barely there. Three guys, a song about a guy doing his best to have a relationship while being a rock star. That's what you get here folks.

  • "Wheel" was written by the lone observer that gave us Room for Squares. That life is a funny thing, and it's true - everything comes 'round in the end. The CD ends with an acoustic of Mayer singing "I believe that my life's gonna see, the love I give returned to me."

John Mayer is hard to get to. I know, because I've tried. (for an interview, people, an interview - website, remember? I'm not a stalker, thanks) We were, sadly, turned down. Not because of us, per se, but because it seems that John had decided not to do any interviews until the new CD came out. That's right, boys and girls - a rock star was turning down all free publicity because he wanted to be able to enjoy the end of his tour. Okay, when was the last time you heard of that? I had a couple of my site's contributors go out & buy his album because they were impressed by that. We've started talking to his management again, and if it works out, I'll keep you posted. The high school loner is, it would seem, still a little shy of the spotlight. I suppose part of the appeal of Mayer's music is that it's from the person that watched everybody while they were having their lives, and then wrote songs about what he saw. In Heavier Things, we get to see that observer's success forcing him to particpate, whether he likes it or not. In his Grammy acceptance speech last year, Mayer said, "This is all just..moving very fast, and I'm trying to keep up."

Trying to keep up? Join the club, John. Just make sure you bring your guitar.

~ Claris
September 28, 2003

Originally posted at The Muses' Bitch..'cause I like Chrissy's bandwidth too...
~ Claris' Archives