The problem with John Mayer is that he forces you to look at his music through the prism of his very public and often cringe worthy personal life. Perhaps that’s true with other high profile musicians but seldom has an introspective, roots based singer/songwriter clearly motivated by country, folk, soul and blues made himself look so contradictory by dating glitzy, somewhat vapid female pop stars. His habit of seemingly courting tabloid trash stories with quotes that don’t do his shy, innocent man-child appearance any favors is another notch in a quickly accumulating debit column.
However, removed from the soap opera surrounding Mayer is a talented songwriter and distinctive if mawkish singer whose recent output, crafted in part by producer Don Was’ back to basics approach, is eminently listenable. But that doesn’t mean that many of these songs aren’t too slight to register even after hearing them repeatedly. True to form, Mayer sings everything in his trademarked puffy pillow voice on an album so smooth, professionally crafted and ultimately insignificant that it seems to be made for dentist offices and elevators in the buildings that house them.
A cover of the late JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” coaxes some relaxed blues out Mayer’s siesta but even that song, which seems to have been a studio jam since it doesn’t end, can’t inject life into this snooze fest. Two versions of the opening “Wildfire,’ the second inexplicably sung by Frank Ocean and having little connection with the first, seems like padding on an album that is only 40 minutes long. The amiable country shuffle with pedal steel of “You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down” is Willie Nelson lite and never rises to the occasion of its intriguing title. The closing “On the Way Home” is a clichéd end of summer fling as uninspired as its name and subject matter. The accusatory “Paper Doll” seems like a bland, tissue thin rebuttal of sorts to Taylor Swift’s “Dear John” that feels droopier than most of what even the antiseptic Swift churns out.
Give Mayer credit for keeping his languid country pop organic and as rootsy as someone with his honeyed voice can sound. Yet that only reveals the mediocre quality of the bulk of this material and is no excuse for his sleepwalking performance of it. He needs to do better to regain some of his MIA credibility.