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John Mayer’s ‘Sob Rock’ is sensible, but not satisfying

3.5/5 Stars

John Mayer released his eighth studio album “Sob Rock” on July 16. On this melancholy-fueled field trip in time to 80s rock and roll, Mayer pushes back against his public image as a bit of a playboy, expressing his loneliness and need for genuine connection.

The album opens with the laidback synth-laden rock track “Last Train Home.” The song is reminiscent of a Toto deep cut, and for good reason, as Mayer brought in former Toto members Lenny Castro and Gregg Phillinganes on the drums and keyboard. Mayer’s typically soft, breathy vocals glide over some unsurprisingly smooth guitar work with a tone that brings to mind many a Mark Knofpler Dire Straits cut.

The third track, “New Light,” sports a catchy melody with some contemporary production behind it. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise as legendary hip-hop producer No I.D., who is well respected in the rap community for his slew of Kanye and Jay-Z hits, helped write it. His influence is tangible, and the song sounds like something Daft Punk or Pharrell Williams might craft up in the studio. This track may be the album’s standout, but it was released well before July and feels just a touch out of place from the other songs in the album.

A few tracks later is “Wild Blue,” a much better representation of the album as a whole. The song makes use of some funky guitar syncopation and bass work to create a smooth groove. In this song, Mayer laments over losing a lover, and because of this he discovers something about himself. 

The album’s definitive dud is the aptly titled “Why You No Love Me.” The song has a wellwritten melody but little else, as it’s short on lyrics and big on repetition. 

The album finds its footing in the back half, with tracks like the soft pop-rock “Til the Right One Comes,” which evokes Van Morrison’s 1995 hit “Days Like This.”

The album bows out with the sentimental “All I Want Is to Be With You,” a heartfelt plea to a lost lover. Mayer lets his guitar do the talking on the back end of this track, something that would’ve been welcomed with open ears throughout the whole album.

Mayer co-produced the album with Don Was, a record executive, prolific rock and roll producer and musician in his own right. Was has worked with the likes of Bob Seger, Glenn Frey and The Rolling Stones. Mayer and Was have worked together before too, with Was producing the 2013 “Paradise Valley,” which fits snugly into the country category. There are subtle country influences on this album as well. Mayer taps well-respected country vocalist Maren Morris for the aforementioned “Last Train Home” and “Why You No Love Me,” as well as “Shot in the Dark.

The album had an interesting rollout, as Mayer promoted it through what seems to be his personal TikTok account. It’s hard to imagine he had the idea himself of hopping on the predominantly Gen Z social media platform, but he has no doubt utilized it to great effect.

With a mix of comedy and musical performance, Mayer is able to elicit laughs and rack up the views on TikTok, numbering in the tens of millions over the past six months. Other recording artists are likely to follow suit when promoting new releases, as this method seems to have effectively gotten the word out. 

Mayer has plans to tour, and will be performing the new material off “Sob Rock” in early 2022. As it stands, he is currently finishing up a stint with Dead & Company, which will carry him through the end of October.

“Sob Rock” is a solid album, and one would be hard pressed to say anything awful about it. There isn’t anything special that sets it apart from other albums outside of Mayer’s work, though. 

If you’re looking for a quick listen, the album totals around 40 minutes, with none of the 10 tracks topping five minutes. While the album may lag a bit when it comes to substance, it has a definitive groovy 80s feel that Mayer’s personal style compliments quite well.

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