21 July 2021-
John Mayer is back with eighth studio album Sob Rock, a somewhat surprising take on 80's soft rock as interpreted by one of the most gifted contemporary musicians...
John Mayer is an interesting animal — or rather two interesting animals. In a manner reminiscent of British musician Pete Doherty, you get two very different sides of the same coin here. With Doherty, you get the drug-filled rockstar lifestyle in the tabloids; then you listen to his work and it’s often times extremely melodious pop music. With Mayer, tabloid fodder centers around his (many) relationships and the (many) stories that came with them; meanwhile, his creative output is always excellent, sometimes remarkable… This year’s Sob Rock is somewhere in-between.
This is not the first time Mayer surprises his audience with a stylistic change, and he did not rush work on this album either: its first single, “New Light”, got released way back when in 2018! Since then, he’s been meticulously working on the rest of the track list to eventually be able to present a highly cohesive ensemble — with a very distinct tonality. You can tell from the artwork that all of it is 100% intentional: Sob Rock is an obvious nod to 80’s soft rock records, the kind that had synthesizers coexisting with guitars, heavily formatted drums with crisp vocals… You can literally hear inspirations from the likes of Dire Straits, Sting or solo Phil Collins: could be much worse, but it’s a decisive choice nonetheless.
From the aforementioned “New Light” to more recent singles “Last Train Home” or “Shot in the Dark”, you get exactly what you pay such a nice prize (as stated on the cover) for: clean cut 3+ minute-long tracks built on strong melodies, soulful vocals and well dosed orchestration. The rest of the album is on par with that: you will hard pressed to find a filler track on here, as this very much feels like a project in which everything was thoughtfully crafted — with the occasional guitar bit that reminds everyone how talented Mayer really is.
All told, there is little criticism to voice about this album: it is what it was meant to be, a tight and highly enjoyable piece of 80’s-inspired pop-rock. That last part may be the one limitation to the whole thing: it does occasionally feels like Sob Rock is a massive stylistic exercise. One that we are OK with, though…