John Mayer: Sob Rock

From the moment I saw the album cover, I was anticipating John Mayer’s new album with an unjustifiable zeal. Apart from briefly owning Room For Squares twenty years ago, my only exposure to Mayer was seeing him perform, quite impressively, as a member of The Dead. His guitar chops are well-documented but his solo material between “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and “New Light” is completely unfamiliar to me. However, the perfectly crafted build-up to Sob Rock hinted at a celebration of late-80s soft-rock which is one of my musical sweet spots. For the first few listens, Mayer delivers the goods but the returns begin to diminish with each new listen.

By now, most of us can agree that “Last Train Home” finds more than a little inspiration in the blessed rains of “Africa” (Toto). It delivers on the the promise of the album cover with it’s clever Nice Price sticker. The video takes the homage to the era even further by re-creating Eric Clapton’s “Forever Man” though Mayer takes it up a notch with an appearance from the beguiling Maren Morris. With long-time Clapton keyboardist Greg Phillinganes onboard for Sob Rock, Mayer gets the details perfect at times. The guitar tone consistently finds a comfortable space between Clapton’s 80s output and Mark Knopfler’s Brothers In Arms period. In fact, Sob Rock sent me looking for my copy of Clapton’s August (1986) to listen to “Take A Chance” which, I can confirm, would slide seamlessly into this Mayer collection.

Released back in 2018, “New Light” sets the bar high for the rest of the album and nothing quite measures up. With each listen, the songs on Sob Rock start to sound more like what I remember John Mayer sounding like when I bought Room For Squares all those years ago. He has either taken the playfulness of the concept too far or not far enough with this album depending on who you ask which will ultimately leave everyone wishing for more after a few listens. Ultimately, Sob Rock is a can of Michelob Ultra and not the classic Michelob teardrop bottle I was hoping to drink from my speakers.

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