‘The Search for Everything’ — a Continuum of the Past
Charlie Kenney | Wednesday, April 19, 2017
After John Mayer’s most recent album “The Search for Everything” dropped last Thursday, he tweeted, “It’s going OFF in my mentions right now! It’s spicy in here.” I don’t know exactly what was going on in his mentions, but they sound 100 times more exciting and “spicy” than the album he released that same day.
John Mayer’s albums follow a certain pattern. His first two albums, “Room for Squares” and “Heavier Things,” immediately pull you in with an optimistic, singer-songwriter tone dominated by acoustic guitar and untested vocals. His next two, “Continuum” and “Battle Studies,” drag you in more slowly with a more somber sound laced with a flirtation between jazz, blues and Mayer’s former juvenile self. His two most recent albums, “Born and Raised” and “Paradise Valley,” depart from both blues and pop to take on a bluegrass and folk flavor governed by banjo plucks and a country drawl. “The Search for Everything” was supposed to follow that pattern. It is his ninth released studio album — an odd number, which normally signifies the movement to a new genre. The new album, however, doesn’t showcase a new genre at all. It does exactly the opposite.
“The Search for Everything” is a combination of all of Mayer’s past albums and past genres. However, it doesn’t have the same blues emotion that “Continuum” has, it doesn’t have the lyricism and guitar that “Room for Squares” has and it doesn’t have the campfire, bluegrass feel that “Paradise Valley” has. It’s a watered down concoction of all his prior work.
Every different genre he dealt with throughout his career is showcased on the album. “Helpless” features acoustic strumming that became so familiar in his earlier work, “Moving on a Getting Over” is characterized by the intermittent electric guitar and blues sound that made his mid-career work so popular, and “Roll it on Home” is a mediocre attempt to recreate the folk arrangements that distinguished his later albums. They all attempt to recreate different sounds that sold different records, but they all fall short.
Mayer didn’t take the risk of trying a new breed of music. It’s perhaps this very risk-averse mentality that has kept his career afloat for so long. He has stuck with the familiar, the already successful and the record-sellers. Only this time, he did all of it a little bit worse and with a little bit less passion and individuality than before. The name of his album really shouldn’t be “The Search for Everything;” all Mayer did was search through his prior discography. A more proper name for it would be “A Continuum of Heavier Things in Paradise Valley” because that’s really what it is — a misshapen mosaic of his prior works.
As a result of this, however, the album did stay true to one pattern of Mayer’s music — it focused on love and relationships. From pop to blues to folk, all of Mayer’s albums are consumed by allusions to some ex-girlfriend or some current relationships. “The Search for Everything” has those allusions to the nth degree.
The entire album isn’t just about some anonymous love affair or girlfriend. Every single song on the album is outright and blatantly about Katy Perry.
Perry has released five albums on her own, but Mayer thought she needed a sixth. The album is a roadmap of his grief over the breakup, and he isn’t subtle about it at all. The first song “Still Feel Like Your Man” immediately sets the tone, as Mayer laments about not being able to get into another relationship. The album then just goes through the motions of his life after the breakup. Three songs in he’s “Helpless,” only for him to later go out and have “Love on the Weekend.” After he’s done with the weekend, he decides he’s “Moving On and Getting Over,” but nonetheless he lets Perry know “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.”
By setting up his album this way, each of his fans can take a step into his relationship with Perry and cry the same tears he cried over their breakup. It’s a touch of class from Mayer. Every one of his fans has dreamed of breaking up with Perry at least once or twice, and now with a single listen of his newest album, they can.
In just about every case, the coal mine has its diamonds. However, due to the overwhelming presence of unprovocative, predictable tracks and an overemphasis on a relationship that many people don’t care about, the album lacks any semblance of a hidden gem.
Though the 12 songs on the album may be transplants from previous albums, that source material offers a pretty decent ground for Mayer to self-plagiarize. The bluegrass, the folk, the blues, the jazz and the pop featured in the album may not be as strong as it was in the albums meant for each of those genres, but nonetheless they’re all vintage Mayer. The album still contains the matrimony of Mayer’s soothing vocals and rugged guitar. It’s the same pairing that garnered him such a large and dedicated fan base.
“Roll it on Home” may be a photocopy of a song on one of Mayer’s more recent albums, but that doesn’t mean it won’t leave you with that strange desire to go to camping; “Love on the Weekend” may be a crude attempt at making Perry jealous through a more pop oriented song, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to sing along to its enticing chorus; and “Moving On and Getting Over” might remind you of “Continuum” a little bit too much, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get yelled at for trying to turn it on at a party. It’s still quintessential Mayer, and if you can forget about the minutia of the production and patterns in it, it really is a killer album to listen to while road-tripping, doing homework or falling asleep.
All that being said, Mayer’s “Search for Everything” better not be over. The album had three years of work behind it and still fell flat. Mayer has only touched the horizons of three different genres during his career. With tried and true talent and at the age of 39, he is in a great position to not only match but top his previous records. He might have to break a few patterns, his fans might have to wait three more years and he might even have to break up with Katy Perry again to make another great record. But it would be well worth the wait.
Artist: John Mayer
Album: The Search for Everything
Favorite Track: “In the Blood”
If you like: Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson
Shamrocks: 2.5 out of 5