John Mayer ditches folky ties in ‘The Search for Everything’

In Album Reviews by Will Carroll

The Search for Everything sees John Mayer shake the folky ties of his last two albums and embrace a synthy, soulful new sound.  

For all intents and purposes, John Mayer’s career has enjoyed four distinct epochs. There is the clean-cut, bright-eyed guitarist and quasi-bubblegum pop vocalist John of Room for Squares and Heavier Things; there is the momentary-genius John that produced Continuum; there is the media-playboy John behind Battle Studies; then there is the repentant-cum-rustic folk John behind Born and Raised and Paradise Valley. Mayer’s new album, his first in four years, is an attempt to draw all of these disparate periods of his hugely successful career into one chilled, soulful reflection on, well, everything. The result is an enjoyable, sometimes beautiful, meditation on life, love and everything inbetween that Mayer’s experienced first-hand.

Moving away from the folk of his last two records, which spawned the hits ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Shadow Days’, to name a few, Mayer has embraced a synth-laced work of soul-pop on his seventh studio album to foreground his soaring signature vocals and skill as an arranger and producer.

I am not done changing,
out on the run changing.
I may be old and I may be young,
but I am not done changing.

 The album’s halfway points sees the neo-soul toned down in favour of a piano ballad, and Mayer seems to hit the nail on the head about where his career has found itself sixteen years on from his hugely successful debut. A life lived firmly in the spotlight, Mayer has struggled with fame for much of his life and claims to be a ‘recovering ego addict’, with his last two albums offering some measure of catharsis from his tabloid lifestyle. The Search for Everything continues this evolution of Mayer not simply as a musician, but as a human being, and in the cosy four walls of his latest album you can hear this maturity in spades.

‘Moving On and Getting Over’ is perhaps the standout track of Mayer’s funk ‘n’ soul mash-up. His digitised vocals bounce along to a groovy guitar and bass pairing. It’s followed by another return to the saccharine balladry that has become Mayer’s bread and butter, with ‘Never on the Day You Leave’ seeing Mayer remember loves lost and long gone.

To watch a girl become a ghost before your eyes,
You wish you’d given her one more kiss
to put away for a night like this.    

 Thematically the track is a world apart from Heavier Thing’s ‘Daughters’, a track that reduced an entire generation of teenage girls to hopelessly-in-love Mayerites, a song where girls ‘become lovers’. Now, they become ghosts, and with them so does the cheesy past endeavours of Mayer as he embraces his mature new direction. Special mention needs to go to the album’s closing track, ‘You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me’, Mayer’s clear nod to Randy Newman. A crossover of artistic styles that, on paper, seems to defy logic, it makes for a gorgeous, comforting finale to one of Mayer’s most relaxing and peaceful record of his career.

The Search for Everything is a soulful and meditative work of quiet beauty, but it’s not without its weak spots. The clumsily titled ‘Emoji of a Wave’, in keeping with the episodic theme of the album’s release, is a little too on the nose for comfort, and ‘Roll it on Home’ is essentially a by-the-numbers neo-folk track that would have been more at home on 2013’s Paradise Valley. That said, there are enough standout tracks here to warrant both multiple listens and continued supported for Mayer and his influential stamp on the modern music industry. His vocals haven’t faltered since he started his tenure as music’s chief man-with-guitar, but he isn’t the wry, knowing womaniser of his past. Mayer has grown from a good musician to a great one over his career, and The Search for Everything is a welcome, if safe, addition to his discography that has soul running through its veins, and love as its beating heart.