Four years since the release of his last studio album Paradise Valley, John Mayer had two potential routes to success with his latest full-length album, The Search For Everything.
The first would have been to continue cultivating the elements he’s long mastered: up-front, reflective lyrics, undeniable virtuosity on the guitar, and the blending of multiple genres with his own soulful roots to create a distinctive sound. The second route could have consisted of an experimental approach requiring a shift in musical direction, as we’ve heard on previous albums like Born and Raised (Laurel Canyon folk) or Battle Studies (pop rock). Mayer’s listeners are usually spoiled with both, but struggling to find either makes The Search For Everything (TSFE) too fitting of a title, for all the wrong reasons. Succinctly put, Mayer’s latest is a disappointment.
Since 2013, Mayer’s vast array of musical pursuits have included a cover of Beyonce’s “XO,” recording a duet of “Come Rain or Come Shine” with Barbra Streisand, and most notably touring and collaborating as a part of the revived ‘60s rock band The Grateful Dead. Six studio albums and seven Grammy awards into his career, combined with four years worth of heartbreak and life experience driving his brilliance as a singer-songwriter, blindly putting The Search For Everything on a pedestal was inevitable.
The album was delivered unconventionally, preceded by two “waves” or mini albums of songs from the full album, starting with The Search for Everything: Wave One in January 2017. April 14 marked the release of the last four songs as part of a complete package. The first song of the full album, “Still Feel Like Your Man,” is hopeful and reminiscent of the groove found in Mayer’s former blues and R&B works. But like most of the album, it’s lacking in standout qualities that differentiate it from every other track, making for an easy-listening playlist at your favorite generic coffee shop at best.
This also applies to Mayer’s uncomfortably basic lyrics, found in songs like “Emoji of a Wave” — with lyrics like: “It’s just a wave / And I know that when it comes / I just hold on until it’s gone” — which are repeated for half of the song’s duration over simple chord changes that give popular music a bad name. The same can be said about “Changing,” which is just scarcely saved by Mayer’s standard electric guitar interlude. Tracks like “Roll It On Home” might have you instinctively tapping your foot and whistling along, yet there’s nothing that can solidify it as anything more than a catchy-but-short-lived almost folk, almost country tune.
If there’s to be one standout single,“In the Blood” embodies everything of the classic John Mayer hit. Deftly arranged instrumentals and vocals complement subtle melodies, creating a sound that captures the honesty found in all his best works. Married with lyrics that explore sense of self and the eternal debate of nature vs. nurture, it’s a worthy representation of Mayer’s own hard earned wisdom and maturity. Unfortunately, for every “In the Blood” on the album, there’s a handful more songs that lack both musical and emotional depth, such as the teen-pop-esque “Love on the Weekend” or the overdone “Helpless.”
The Search For Everything leaves its audience as confused as the title suggests. What makes it cohesive? What makes it unique? And most of all, is there an overarching message? Every so often, we’re teased with an inkling of what Mayer tries to convey, but every “wave” ends up shallow or mid-force at most. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope he finds the rogue wave again in future albums.