When I first heard “No Such Thing” it made no impression on me. I forgot about it. In fact, I didn’t realize it was John Mayer until this month. When I first heard “Your Body is a Wonderland,” my 20-year-old male self dismissed it as female fan pandering, but I was at least aware of someone named “John Mayer” (who I really, really didn’t like). A few years later, Soundstage came on, probably after Austin City Limits, and there was John Mayer, playing the blues with fucking Buddy Guy and my head exploded.
John Mayer is an extremely talented musician. He clearly has a knack for writing catchy melodies, as illustrated by this album. His lyrics are, I hate to say it, probably above average. (Though the pandering to his female fans is extreme.) He is an excellent guitarist. And he is clearly capable of playing many more instruments, based on the credits of this record. And he’s a decent singer. But he has the musical taste of my dead grandma (at least on his debut). Okay, my grandmother would never have actually listened to anything this modern, but I trot that out whenever I encounter a talented musician who is scared of rough edges.
This is some wussy music. And that’s fine, people like wussy music and there’s clearly a place for it in the world. But it always galls me when I find out the maker of wussy music has musical talent, especially when that person appears to have a lot of musical talent. I always find myself asking the same question, “what made them use their talents for evil instead of good?” Mayer doesn’t like the rough edges but he also doesn’t appear to like idiosyncrasy. He sounds like he’s making music for people who don’t like art. They want to put this mildly pleasant record on the the background, sing along to the couple of choruses they remember, and otherwise forget it exists. Like I said, there’s clearly a place for that in the world, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
If I had never learned that Mayer was actually an excellent guitarist – though I guess I could have sort of gathered it from a few moments here – and I had never heard him express his fondness for so much of the music I grew up on, I’d probably have less of a strong reaction to this record. I’d probably bump it up a point due to its “competence” and shoulder-shrug. But knowing he’s a talent, and knowing he likes (some?) good music makes it all the harder to stomach this pablum. Maybe it’s just the folly of youth. I suspect he wrote many of these songs at this age because he thought it would get him girls. But they don’t do anything for me. And I really wish he’d internalized the musical lessons of at least some of the famous musicians he claims to be a fan of, instead of making what is the millennial equivalent of 70s AM radio.