Speaking as a decided nonfan of John Mayer's music, it was semicompelling to read recently that his creative tides might be turning. He starts outthis posting on his Tumblr
asserting that he's not trying to please everybody -- and his overpolished guitar tone, crumpled face, and croon-by-numbers love lyrics have certainly never pleased me. Kanye West and ?uestlove see something in him that I don't. And yet, something about the way the guy adeptly assembles humor, wit, and sarcasm in nonmusical forums
makes something as bland as "say what you need to say" seem like a colossal waste.
As Mayer's September 11 date at West Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphitheatre looms, it's a fine time to consider the implications (or nonimplications) of this statement:
"Maybe I'll take ten minutes each show for the rest of this tour and just play shit I love but think might turn people off. Then when the tour is done I'm going to take a good long nap and work on becoming irrelevant."
Four observations about the advent of a New John Mayer follow.
Will anyone be able to tell the difference?
"If I don't risk it all on tape soon, I'm going to be in trouble. I need
to be loud. Slightly out of tune. Stick around in a solo a little too
long. Maybe not know exactly what I'm doing and let that be the
Mayer's words feel provocative at first, but that's exactly how lots of popular artists talk about their next project. A couple of years ago, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington referred to stepping "out of the realms of commercialism" in the creation of the band's forthcoming A Thousand Suns, but first single "The Catalyst" (which, incidentally, appears in a videogame trailer and still managed to top Billboard's Alternative Songs and Rock Songs charts) is nothing of the sort. Notice that in both Mayer's and Linkin Park's cases, no one says anything about commercially releasing the so-called risky material.
no one will like this new side of John Mayer. Well, that's not possible. Some
people who like John Mayer now obviously don't care about the music very much
anyhow. Others care too much. When I get stuck in conversations with people regarding his merit, I
concede that he's a good guitarist and then try to glance back at the omelet options or whatever. Fans are
disturbingly loyal. If a new John Mayer album is "super weird," it'll mean that a
good portion of the people who go to the shows every year are going to
sit with it and deconstruct it for eons. Essayists like myself will
write lengthy reviews -- some perhaps more positive and some not so.
Perhaps there will be foolish comparisons to Bob Dylan, because that whole "making myself irrelevant" thing was what he said he was doing with Self Portrait. Difference: Bob
Dylan didn't have social networking and a blog, so his songs had to serve as proof to the world that he was a witty, brilliant artist.
relevant is relative. It's going to take a long time for John
Mayer to be irrelevant, even if his music takes a left turn, buys a case of Nutella, smears it all over a rest stop's walls, and then drives off an embankment. He's still
got the Perez Hilton and salacious interview thread of his career to thank for that. Even if he's just going apeshit on the Huffington Post ("You're a stripper wearing reading glasses." Zing!) about how he's not like that anymore. And, given
that the guy lives in New York and has a penchant for singing with
homeless men and dating starlets, well, yeah.
don't actually want John Mayer to make music that I like. And many of the people commenting on his statement here effuse basically that "this is why he's so awesome anyhow, OMG." Which isn't taking the position
that he can't or won't make music I like. Alt-country or truly putting the "Mayer" in German electronic act Supermayer would be interesting. Based on the way he gives these remarks, it's comfortable lumping Mayer in with plenty of artists out there
recording a type of "art" for a given niche because that's what they
figured out how to do well even if it's not their personal fave. It's a lot riskier (and significantly less profitable) to do otherwise.
times when I've interviewed musicians who primarily make mainstreamcentric music
but "they seem like good dudes," we ended up discussing what falls on the cutting-room floor roundabout
way. 3 Doors Down frontman Brad Arnold conceded his band often comes up with songs that "aren't 3 Doors Down material" and would
never fit alongside "Kryptonite" in concert, and Finger Eleven singer Scott
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Anderson seemed more eager to gush about Elvis Costello than
to discuss "Paralyzed." Then again, maybe they were just adapting to fit the needs of the person in front of them -- which is what we're all doing constantly, but not necessarily on a public stage. Can it ever be by design, or is it always dumb luck?
John Mayer. With Owl City. 7 p.m. Saturday, September 11, at Cruzan Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $48.10 to $84.50. Click here.