[17 September 2001]
Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you . . . John Mayer! Now, just be quiet a moment. You’re going to love this guy! You’re going to want his album! He’s going to be H-O-T on the charts! Don’t question me, because I have all the answers. You’re going to fall in love with John Mayer and his new album Room for Squares because he sounds just like . . . Dave Matthews! C’mon, get excited!
Or don’t. I’m certainly not. I don’t like Dave Matthews at all, so having to drag myself through this album has been more than a test of my pain threshold. I liked it a little the first time I heard it, but I kept saying to myself, “Something’s wrong here. This guy sounds uncannily like someone very famous.” And then it dawned on me that Mayer is Matthews’ doppelganger. Probably the only good thing I can report about this is that Mayer doesn’t often resort to sounding like a donkey braying obnoxiously in key, as Matthews is often wont to do. Girl, you know it’s true!
Ah, but this is the kind of music that sells millions. And such win-one-for-the-underdog lyrics like “I never lived the dreams of prom kings / And the drama queens / I’d like to think the best of me / Is still hiding up my sleeve” (from “No Such Thing”) will no doubt be endearing to the that section of the music buyers who can get jiggy with Matthews’ brand of storytelling. But it doesn’t move me in any way, other than making a quick dash to the CD player to hit the stop button.
But Mayer has been rockin’ the crowds acoustically for some time now. In 1999, he released his debut album, Inside Wants Out, which garnered critical raves from the Atlanta papers (Mayer had moved there after attending the Berklee College of Music). After that, he wowed the audiences and labels at the South by Southwest show in Austin, Texas in 2000. Columbia signed Mayer up, and now, a little over a year later, John has doled out Room for Squares to more acclaim.
Other big names like Sting and Jakob Dylan are mentioned in the same breath as Matthews in Mayer’s press release (see, so it’s not just me bucking that whole Dave thing here). That’s two more musicians who don’t do much for me. Sting, I liked more in the Police, and Jakob . . . ahh, he’s all right, but “all right” in a “you don’t mind it when hearing it at the dentist’s” sort of way. Still, I don’t really hear those two guys too much in this album, and I know it’s strictly because of Mayer’s voice, but dammit, I just can’t get around it to not make the Matthews comparison.
In fact, songs like “Why Georgia” sound so much like the Dave Matthews Band that it makes a non-fan want to start pulling out some Captain and Tennille albums out really fast. “I rent a room and I fill the spaces with / Wood in places to make it feel like home / But all I feel’s alone / It might be a quarter life crisis / Or just the stirring in my soul”, sings Mayer. Cute, that “quarter life crisis”, no? Not really, no.
There are a number of remixes of Mayer’s tunes here. “No Such Thing”, “83”, “My Stupid Mouth”, “Your Body Is a Wonderland”, “Love Song for No One”, and “Back to You” have all been given the remix treatment. Of those, “Back to You”, “No Such Thing”, and “My Stupid Mouth” previously appeared on Mayer’s ‘99 album. Other tracks, like “Neon” also make their second appearance here. According to some of the fans’ reactions that I read over at Amazon.com, the new remixes aren’t as good as the original takes. Then there are the factions who say they’re better. If you’re an old fan, I suppose you’ll just have to figure it out, but I guess my concern is that there’s so much reprised stuff here that perhaps Room for Squares is a bit of a rip. Who knows.
All I know is that I cringe at tunes like “City Love” (“I never liked this apple much / It always seemed too big too touch / I can’t remember how I found / My way before she came around”), and the breathy “3X5” (“Today’s skies are painted colors of a cowboy’s cliché / And strange how clouds that look like mountains / In the sky are next to mountains anyway”). The words always seem trite and precious, as if Mayer just had to prove how clever he was. Ah, but then I remember that Berklee also gave us the Blake Babies and Juliana Hatfield, who also managed to write many a too cute for words song.
Mayer’s music itself is pleasant fluff. It doesn’t offend, nor does it attempt to make itself too exciting for the most part. The energy conveyed in “No Such Thing” quickly dries up in favor of a more subdued groove. Hey, if you live Dave Matthews’ “Crash”, you’ll be sure to love Mayer’s brand of electric folk pop throughout the 14 tracks on Room for Squares.
But that’s just the thing. Mayer’s doesn’t need me to give my opinions on his work. His fans certainly won’t care if I don’t like this album. After all, everyone’s lives will roll on. John will continue to win many a convert, and the fans will continue to love this kind of music. As for me, I’ll be moving along as well, in search of the rarer groove that perhaps deserves the limelight more than a disc such as this. In any event, I know plenty of people who will enjoy John Mayer’s Room for Squares. I’m just not one of them.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mayerjohn-room/