John Mayer is no longer a top-seller. By the mid-2000s, Mayer had two double-platinum albums and a Song of the Year Grammy Award under his belt. The entertainment industry believed him to be a pop darling. However, after a series of infamous remarks in 2010, Mayer’s self-described “lean years” began, resulting in the artist’s self-imposed exile after gruesomely detailing his masturbation practices, using the phrase “sexual napalm” and referring to his male anatomy as a “white supremacist.” Some feared that after such a rocky patch, Mayer would become a pop-culture afterthought, evinced by his decreasing commercial performance and diminished social relevancy caused by his media misadventures.
However, Mayer’s latest album, “The Search for Everything,” is delightful. Introduced by two four-song samples earlier this year, the album presents John Mayer in maturity — uncompromising in musicianship, broad in genre and musical sensibility and, at times, confessional and poetical in lyricism. “The Search for Everything” displays Mayer’s sophisticated vocal work, elaborate guitar playing and compositional dexterity marked by instances of lyrical poignancy.
But the buzz words around “The Search for Everything” are Katy Perry — Mayer’s famous ex-girlfriend. The album begins with its second single, “Still Feel Like Your Man,” a song Mayer describes as sonically evocative of a fictional “ancient Japanese R&B” music style, with uncommon triads, deceptively staccato rhythm and freaky bass lines. “Still Feel Like Your Man” is Mayer’s version of a guitar-centric, funky R&B post-breakup song admittedly about Perry, the commercial pop culture colossus behind blockbuster tunes like “Firework” and “Chained to the Rhythm.” Mayer and Perry’s long relationship, described in an interview as that “one relationship loss that takes you with it,” has not gone unmentioned upon the release of Mayer’s latest body of work. The single, accompanied by a high-budget music video featuring dancing pandas, includes a confessional line that is perhaps the album’s most telling visual: “I still keep your shampoo in my shower.”
Regardless of the intriguing context coloring the record, Mayer’s intent in the album is to consolidate his personal experiences into an artistic product with universal appeal. In “In the Blood,” he sings about some of his family’s issues and his existential concerns to the beat of a production reminiscent of 2010s folk-pop: “How much of my father am I destined to become? / Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone? / Will I let this woman kill me or do away with jealous love? / Will it wash out in the water / Or is it always in the blood?”
In “Changing,” the album’s most contrite song, Mayer reflects on the passage of time. He sings, “Time’s been talking to me / Whispering in my ear.” Lyrically, the song discusses the ephemeral nature of the heart, the negotiation between youth and adulthood and the incompleteness of personal development. Halfway through the piano and acoustic guitar-based, folk-inspired song, Mayer dives into an unexpected electric guitar solo with heavy reverb and ’70s-inspired layered synthesizers.
Seated at track seven of the album’s 12 songs comes the “Theme from ‘The Search for Everything,’” a two-minute instrumental composition that introduces the record into the world of concept album and serves as its centerpiece. The “Theme” is cinematic, featuring acoustic guitars suited for campfires, sporadic orchestral percussion and strings and descending vocals.
The album features several new facets of Mayer’s talents. He sings in Spanish in “Rosie,” devotes an entire track to instrumentals in the “Theme from ‘The Search for Everything’” and timestamps his titles with the song “Emoji of a Wave.” His vocals are extremely tasteful on “Rosie” — a groovy apology song with a sonic affinity for classic soul music. In it, Mayer slips in and out of falsetto and chest voice, trying his hand at melodic flutters that drip in lyricism.
Mayer’s final track, “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me,” features a minimalistic structure. The ballad highlights Mayer’s bare vocals with a piano-based whistled melody and some strings in the latter portion. It is sung almost entirely in falsetto and is built around an AAA structure, with only four verses and no refrains, delivering a gentle melody with reflective lyrics. The last verse contains the heart-wrenching lines, “And when the pastor asks the pews / for reasons he can’t marry you / I’ll keep my word in my seat.”
John Mayer’s commercial performance with “The Search for Everything” has reached new heights, with “wave one” debuting at No. 1 on top album sales and over 38,000 copies sold. Mayer has composed an album with only one featured artist name at a time, in contrast with most pop songs today, which are products of glossy collaborations between the industry’s top artists, proving that age and accessibility are often inversely proportional. But this album is a strong, cohesive construction. Mayer and his audiences can feel satisfied in its artistic worth, regardless of what this “search for everything” brings.