Hidden Gems: John Mayer – Heavier Things

There’s more to this guy than “Daughters”.

How about that John Mayer guy?  He has defined the current singer-songwriter genre and is the first artist to come to mind when “acoustic guitar” comes up in conversation.  The only songs you need to learn on guitar to impress girls are John Mayer songs.  Girls love him, guys like him cause girls love him, and a select few, including myself, appreciate his approach towards the guitar and the blues.  As a celebrity figure he is constantly in the news more for his personal life than his music.  However, as a musician he is stone-cold focused on the music, leaving all the People magazine bullshit behind when he enters the studio, creating introspective music that goes deeper than what is usually played on the radio.

Mayer’s growth as an artist is also interesting.  He grew up as a devoted disciple of Stevie Ray Vaughan and all that is blues guitar and worked his way to become a bedroom blues guitar prodigy.  He went to Berkley School of Music, dropped out, and then started to write folky coffeehouse-est songs (his all acoustic debut album Inside Wants Out EP is a must have).  Then he went all pop with No Room For Squares, an album with strong, smart pop songs but was lacking in any kind of blues.  Years later and many successful singles later he released Continuum, an album that finally showcased his blues skills combined with great pop songs.  Mayer’s place in music history was set and all was good in wonderland, even if many people didn’t like Battles Studies (which I believe is very underrated!).

With all the attention on Room For Squares and Continuum, most people forget about the album that came between, the awkward middle child that wasn’t as outgoing but possessed strong talents that were mostly hidden.  Heavier Things wasn’t as overall successful as his other albums, but the album is full of incredible music that, at its best, stacks up with the best of Mayer’s work.

Heavier Things is, as Mayer himself described it, his Axis: Bold As Love, an album more creative and colorful than its predecessor but not as appealing at first.  The songs here aren’t as cute as “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and the overall tone is more serious.  This album is full of songs of isolation, distance from loved ones, and coming to terms with the heavier things of life, hence the album title.  Always the introspective guy, Mayer is a master at expressing his feelings and making you feel what he’s feeling.

The album starts out with “Clarity”, a song so different from anything off of Room For Squares that the tone is set immediately for what is to come.  Piano, horns, and acoustic guitar accompany Mayer as he finds himself caught in a moment of realization, between knowing everything and knowing nothing, trying to make sense of what it all means.  Mayer does a lot of that on Heavier Things, trying to make sense of life and love and asking some deep questions – he’s not concerned so much about cute girls and 1983 this time around.

However, the radio-friendly Mayer hasn’t completely disappeared, proven by the following track “Bigger Than My Body”.  A showcase of Mayer’s gift of melody and lyrics, the song is the album’s most upbeat song.  “Something’s Missing” follows, and Mayer is back to trying to figure out every little aspect of his life and the source of his emptiness.  The rest of the album flows well, with all the songs complementing each other well but never really standing out on the first couple of listens.  “Daughters” is the key track here, maybe the song that makes girls cry the most (Fun fact: Mayer did not want “Daughters” to be a single because he thought it would ruin his career).

The album’s most powerful moment, however, is saved for last.  “Wheel”, the album’s closer, is one of Mayer’s most unique songs.  Softer and as minimal as anything he has written, the song is very much the answer to the questions the pervious songs raised.  Life goes round in a big wheel and everything goes in cycles, and the best thing anyone can do is to just let life happen.  This also has one of my favorite Mayer guitar solos.  It’s his smoothest and jazziest song, and one of my all-time favorites.

Love him or hate him, you have to agree that Mayer can write great songs, and his lyrical power is matched by his technical skills as a guitarist.  Continuum is his best album, but Heavier Things will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s a great blend of smart pop songs and thought-provoking lyrics, an album that wasn’t meant to be radio-friendly but was good enough to be as popular as it was.  In the end, It is proof to me that there is more to this guy than “Daughters”.

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