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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.
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.