Album Review by Casey Carlson

If it hasn’t been made apparent the last few years, we are in an 80s revival. Stranger Things is the posterchild of Netflix streaming and nostalgia. Blinding lights is still on the Spotify Top 40 years after being released (and who can complain? Its a banger) and zoomers are embracing Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up” not even caring about what a rick-roll is…. Or was. Even brands like Pizza Hut and Burger King are bringing back their old logos for their ads. It seems like everyone is on board with this trend, Including John Mayer. 

Now to be clear, John Mayer has always had a soft spot for the eighties. It’s his childhood years after all, but even still, the guitar legend has been performing alongside artists like Eric Clapton, Sting, Billy Joel, and more for years -All artists who thrived during that time period. To say he is a connoisseur of that time period is an understatement. Sob Rock proves he is a scholar. 

John Mayer performs at the Xcel Energy Center in 2017. Photo by Casey Carlson

Continuum obsessed Mayer fans may call Sob Rock a period piece, however looking at the album from both a musical and production standpoint, Sob Rock is much more than that. Last Train Home and Shot in The Dark feature Country Singer Maren Morris on backup vocals, both a welcome and much needed female voice to a very male-dominated record. Joining John are also a handful of eighties studio musicians, Percussionist Lenny Castro of Toto and Eric Clapton fame, and Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, who performed with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. Its clear that John was after their sound for the record – both of them play on half the tracks of Sob Rock

But even as modern sounding as an eighties record can be, Mayer’s songs still have good callbacks to radio hits of years past. Last Train Home resembles a Toto and Journeyman-era Eric Clapton crossover. Shot in The Dark sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song, and All I Want Is To Be With You could have been a Bruce Springsteen song from Nebraska if Bruce had played electric guitar on the Album. But all of this is not by accident. Mayer revealed in an interview that part of the fun of the record was to “Implant false memories into your brain, because that’s what it did for me.”

While Sob Rock is mostly an upbeat record, the Sob in Sob Rock can come from a few different songs. “Hurt me once, I’ll let it be / Hurt me twice, you’re dead to me / Three times makes you family / Why can’t you see I’m yours? Mayer sings on Why You No Love Me, a song that also has a slower, tropical Eagles-like sound to it, made possible by slide guitarist Greg Lietz. On All I Want Is To Be With You, Mayer channels a lower octave similar to Who Says, but in a slower, almost Roy Orbison like rhythm.I can fake it and pretend /I don’t wanna see your face again /And I can find me someone new /But all I want is to be with you.” The album ends with a wild country-guitar bend, and a fiery solo, fading out until the end of the track – Another lost art in songs these days. 

Sob Rock may not have a Blinding Lights-like hit on it But it does feature Mayer’s unlikely club hit New Light, which has surpassed Your Body is a Wonderland as Mayer’s most streamed song on Spotify by over a hundred million streams. Die-hard Fans will be sad to see that three songs on the record have already been out for a while, New Light, Carry Me Away and I Guess I Just Feel Like had all been released as singles dating back to 2018. With the exception of Last Train Home, the only single to be released specifically for Sob Rock so far, That means the album only has 7 tracks of new material, which seems to fall a bit short of content from John Mayer,  being that his last full album release, The Search For Everything was more than four years ago. 

However, the benefit to Sob Rock is that it is much more cohesive than 2017’s The Search For Everything. While Mayer dubbed The Search For Everything as his “return to pop music”, The album felt more like a compilation of musical styles he’s absorbed over the years. By comparison, Sob Rock has a sound that is much more together and perhaps much more Pop than his last effort, even if that Pop sound was more mainstream 35 years ago. 

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