It’s been my steadfast belief for some time now that John Mayer is one of my generation’s musical beacons. The kind of artist that when we’re all old, grey and in-charge, we’ll remember with the kind of affection and respect that my parent’s generation do Clapton or McCartney.
Before you spit your coffee out and become unnecessarily outraged, I’m not suggesting Mayer is as good as The Beatles. I’m simply saying that given the available comparisons, he is a head and shoulders above most of his peers.
People my age can evidently be easily seduced into becoming bitter about the lack of prodigious musical talent among our generation compared with, say, the 60s and 70s. Thing is, it’s not so much that the talent isn’t there, it’s simply that it isn’t popular anymore. The music industry long ago chose aesthetics over musical chops. In the past two decades they’ve prioritised sex, vocal prowess and/or potential for controversy.
In the 60s, the artists shaped the industry. Nowadays, if you don’t conform, you’re simply never given the chance. Of course, the odd authentically talented musician slips through by being able to tick their boxes at the same time as being talented – read: Taylor Swift.
John came along at the turning of the tide. Just as the music industry was changing, along came an uber-handsome guitar prodigy with a sexy voice. He was the marketing machine’s dream. Luckily for us, twenty years later, he’s still making records. And that’s because, I believe, he has clearly always been, first and foremost, a lover of the music. The man just wants to play and write.
After a several heavily-produced pop albums as a young man, he began his self-directed journey out of pop into blues, rock, country and soul where he always belonged on Battle Studies. It was a toe in the water, and Born and Raised was the jump off the deep end.
I’m glad to say he’s never looked back. The adoration of the industry dripped away like ice at the turning of the season, and what emerged was the phenomenally talented songwriter that had always lived inside. Backing up Born and Raised with the incredible Paradise Valley, and by the time we got to The Search for Everything in 2017, the pop pretence had been completely abandoned.
I’m happy to report that his latest record, released just last week, is possibly his best ever. “I Guess I Just Feel Like” is my favourite John Mayer song, and one of my favourite songs of all time. And the latest single, “Last Train Home” is just a beautifully crafted song.
But a mature songwriter with piercing lyrics and transformative hooks isn’t the end of the story.
Clearly, how important an artist has been in the scheme of things is ultimately a matter of opinion. But let me at least outline my reasons for why I put John in the same category as the best of all time.
The first thing is longevity. John has been at this for over 20 years now and his last few albums have been his best. That’s a rare achievement. The second element is a penchant for originality. John has chosen the path less travelled, making the music he wants to make, the music with meaning, rather than being told what to make in order to make more money. And lastly, there’s the superiority of his ability with a guitar.
I’m naturally convinced that not enough people my age understand just how special John Mayer is. As mentioned previously, that’s largely due to the fact that the music he now makes is unpopular. The radio, and now the streaming service playlists, will choose electronic and hip hop over blues rock every day of the week. So I’m also convinced that not enough people my age have actually heard much of John’s more recent music.
I can only hope that in time they’ll see it. But I reckon it would be a shame to miss one of our generation’s greatest talents while it’s happening. By way of addressing that, I’ve put together a little playlist to get you started on what you’ve missed.