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John Mayer - Sob Rock (Album Review)

Monday, 02 August 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

In an interview with Zane Lowe that walked the line between pretentious and insightful, John Mayer went full Christopher Nolan and claimed “the idea of ‘Sob Rock’ is to implant false memories into your brain. Can you go back in time and synthesise a piece of work that’s so true to the era that, when you hear it, your brain goes ‘nah nah nah this exists, I’m gonna find it,’ but you can’t.” Down the rabbit hole we go.

Firstly, let’s translate that seemingly highfalutin concept into something more tangible. For the eighth record of his career, the guitarist decided to produce a super-slick, yacht rock inspired record that would place listeners smack bang in the 1980s. Given widescreen  life thanks to immaculate, era-appropriate production values from Don Was, ‘Sob Rock’ sounds classic but never anachronistic.  

Fittingly, everyone from Chicago and Foreigner to Dire Straits and Don Henley helped inspire this record’s authentic soft rock canvas.

Tranquil dreamscape Wild Blue joins Mark Knopfler and Chris Rea together in blissful matrimony, Last Train Home boasts proud Toto synths, All I Want Is To Be With You recalls ‘Tunnel of Love’-era Springsteen and Shot in the Dark could have been on the soundtrack to St Elmo's Fire.   

Helping ensure the musical backdrop isn’t a second rate imitation, Mayer sagely employed the likes of keyboard player Greg Phillinganes and percussionist Lenny Castro, two venerable musicians who know this style inside out. Yet ‘Sob Rock’ truly swerves one-dimensional homage because of how well Mayer’s own aesthetic, from super-smooth singing to tasteful fretwork, fits the genre.

He’s cleverly spiced everything up with a variety of throwback influences. Licks from The Beatles, Eagles and Freddie King, alongside a little country and R&B, both deepen the sense of deja vu and, in combination with his typically unhurried songwriting, give the material a strong original voice.

There’s something gloriously wistful about this music that, when done right, immediately creates a state of bittersweet, romantic reminiscence. Shouldn’t Matter But It Does is beautifully melancholic over tender orchestral pads and a sparse production, and with its distinct late ‘70s ambience and Bee Gees voicings, Why You No Love Me is enriched by magical harmonic touches beneath lyrics that cut close to the bone: “Hurt me once, I’ll let it be. Hurt me twice, you’re dead to me. Three times makes you family.” His only misstep is repeatedly crooning the chorus in baby talk fashion, making it possibly the best and worst cut he’s ever written.

Given potential pitfalls, it can’t be understated how well Mayer’s executed this concept when the album could have easily been, at best, a pleasing pastiche, at worst an unintentional parody. Through relatable sentiments and a joyful, evocative sound, images and feelings are conjured that could easily be mistaken for comforting long lost memories. Nolan would be proud.

John Mayer Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu February 17 2022 - ALBANY New York - Times Union Center (USA)
Fri February 18 2022 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Wells Fargo Center (USA)
Sun February 20 2022 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Mon February 21 2022 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Wed February 23 2022 - WASHINGTON DC - Capital One Arena (USA)
Fri February 25 2022 - PITTSBURGH Pennsylvania - PPG Paints Arena (USA)
Sun February 27 2022 - TORONTO Ontario - Scotiabank Arena (Canada)
Tue March 01 2022 - ELMONT New York - UBS Arena (USA)
Fri March 04 2022 - BOSTON Massachusetts - TD Garden (USA)
Sat March 05 2022 - BOSTON Massachusetts - TD Garden (USA)
Fri March 11 2022 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - MGM Grand Garden Arena (USA)
Sun March 13 2022 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum - Los Angeles (USA)
Tue March 15 2022 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum - Los Angeles (USA)
Wed March 16 2022 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum - Los Angeles (USA)
Fri March 18 2022 - SAN FRANCISCO California - Chase Center (USA)
Sat March 19 2022 - SAN FRANCISCO California - Chase Center (USA)
Tue March 22 2022 - SEATTLE Washington - Climate Pledge Arena (USA)
Wed March 23 2022 - SEATTLE Washington - Climate Pledge Arena (USA)
Fri March 25 2022 - SALT LAKE CITY Utah - Vivint Smart Home Arena (USA)
Sun March 27 2022 - DENVER Colorado - Ball Arena (USA)
Sat April 02 2022 - FORT LAUDERDALE Florida - BB&T Center (USA)
Tue April 05 2022 - TAMPA Florida - Amalie Arena (USA)
Fri April 08 2022 - ATLANTA Georgia - State Farm Arena - GA (USA)
Sat April 09 2022 - ATLANTA Georgia - State Farm Arena - GA (USA)
Mon April 11 2022 - CHARLOTTE North Carolina - Spectrum Center (USA)
Wed April 13 2022 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Bridgestone Arena (USA)
Wed April 20 2022 - AUSTIN Texas - Moody Center ATX (USA)
Thu April 21 2022 - AUSTIN Texas - Moody Center ATX (USA)
Sat April 23 2022 - HOUSTON Texas - Toyota Center - TX (USA)
Sun April 24 2022 - DALLAS Texas - American Airlines Center (USA)
Thu April 28 2022 - CHICAGO Illinois - United Center (USA)
Fri April 29 2022 - CHICAGO Illinois - United Center (USA)

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