Veteran singer-songwriter John Mayer released studio album No. 9 last weekend on July 16. Supported by singles “New Light,” “I Guess I Just Feel Like” and lead “Last Train Home,” “Sob Rock” is just 10 songs but spans 38 and a half minutes.
Mayer’s come a long way in his now-22 year career as a musician, from being gaslit by Taylor Swift to becoming a TikTok sensation to keep up with the times, but one thing has remained true throughout: the guy sucks at relationships. Going through this millennium without finding and keeping love would take a toll on most people, but Mayer apparently doesn’t see any danger in going his own way.
Considering that, the idea of sob rock seems right up his wheelhouse. It’s curious, then, why the album starts with “Last Train Home.” While a good song, and certainly the biggest hit on the album, it doesn’t necessarily fit the promise of the album title and actually seems out of place as it gives way to “Shouldn't Matter but It Does.” Songs like it, and later on “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” set the tone for the album: subdued songs with thoughtful production and lyrics that occasionally pop as Mayer shows his mature side.
There’s also songs like “New Light” and “Why You No Love Me” that show his other side. The former, while a serious head-bobber, is a couple lyrics away from coming across as an incel anthem and the latter has a chorus that absolutely should not have been written by a 43-year-old man.
“Wild Blue” sneaks up on you. It comes at the midpoint of the album and is a nice shift in sound. The most unique track of the 10, it also boasts the best lyric on the album, “and you'll never know the unlikely beauty in letting you go.” It’s head and shoulders above the other songs on the album and gets better with each repeat listen.
“Shot in the Dark” is a heartbreaking song not because of its subject matter, but because it builds towards a perfect bridge and then refuses to cross it. “Til the Right One Comes” exposes the weakness of the album and all at once it just gets hard to take the mediocrity that’s endemic here. Taken with “Carry Me Away” and “All I Want Is to Be With You,” the album limps to the finish.
Once it’s over, it’s clear that something’s missing and it’s a cornerstone. This latest album feels less like a cohesive piece of art and more like Mayer just went in the studio whenever he felt like it, made some cool sounding songs, and called that an album once he had enough of them. There is no song that encapsulates what this record is because it’s just a collection of songs strewn together somewhat haphazardly.
It feels like Mayer knows he’s over the hill. When you’ve made “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” “Why Georgia,” “Daughters,” and the list goes on, who cares if your newest music doesn’t hold a candle to that? You’re playing with house money, there’s no need to give the effort you used to.
“Sob Rock” is a testament to the struggles artists go through as they age. Like gravity, it’s an inescapable struggle to fight for daylight against both newer acts and your own already existing discography. To his credit, he’s fought to delay things by releasing albums with increasing infrequency, but he may have already drained out the wishing well.
John Mayer could go the rest of his life without releasing more music and his legacy would be one that 99.9% of artists can only aspire to. Unfortunately for his listeners, he seems to know that.