My Love Affair with John Mayer

Published in Woroni on August 14 2012.

Ask me who I am and I’ll hand you a copy of Room for Squares. Down to every last lyric in each of its thirteen songs, portraying candid introspections and beautifully quirky depictions of the world, John Mayer’s debut album from 2001 pegs me to a tee. It’s an obsession, a downright man-crush on the singer-songwriter that has left friends and family rolling their eyes in its gushing, schoolgirl-esque wake since I welcomed his music into my life with open arms in 2006.

But three years later came the release of Battle Studies. With Continuum preceding it – without a doubt my all-time favourite record – John’s fourth studio album had a lot to live up to. But although initially skeptical of his collaboration with Taylor Swift on ‘Half of my Heart’, and whole-heartedly disappointed after one play-through, it grew on me after over a month of arduous, repeated listening. And, even as each of its singles flopped and the album itself disappeared into obscurity, I could finally say that I liked it. It was no Continuum or Room for Squares, but I liked it.

When John began making the headlines for his most recent playboy escapades, appearing on the front cover of Woman’s Day instead of Rolling Stone, his career began to decline. The moment John was swallowed by his ever-growing ego, festered by his celebrity-status in the superficial sphere of tabloids and paparazzi, was the moment my fandom faltered.

In 2006, at the height of his powers, he was singing the Grammy award-winning ‘Waiting on the World to Change’ and lighting up the worldwide stage with the John Mayer Trio. In short, he was an acclaimed singer-songwriter-cum-guitar-god-cum-generally-awesome-human-being.

In 2010 he was that douchebag dating Jennifer Aniston, clawing desperately for any attention, good or bad, from the paparazzi spotlight, with the world ashamed by his infamous interview with Playboy; “My dick is kind of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock.” (A former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.)

Betrayed and distraught, I lost faith in my musical hero. Countless nights were spent mournfully gorging myself on mounds of ice cream between wrenching, tearful sobs as I lamented the loss of the one true man in my life. My gal pals beseeched me to move on; he just wasn’t worth the tears and the heartbreak.

But like a sign from heaven, and better than a hundred messages left on my answering machine begging to have me back, John Mayer announced an Australian tour. Amidst a crowd of over 13,000 loyal fans crammed into the Sydney Entertainment Centre, the true-believers cheered and roared in spite of their idol’s bad press. But John might as well have been serenading yours truly from beneath an ivory balcony below a dreamy, romantic, star-studded sky. Such did I take the only man I have ever truly loved back into my heart; forgiven but on strict probation.

Such was the state of my adoration at the time of the release of Born and Raised. If Battle Studies is a reflection of a musician’s fall from grace, Mayer’s fifth studio album is a plea for forgiveness. It is a bruised and battered, black and blue singer-songwriter finally taking a long, hard look in the mirror and being dismayed and disappointed by the man who is staring back.

What is most prominent throughout the album is the artist’s maturation. After making a seemingly bizarre move from Los Angeles to outback Montanna, at thirty-four years old John Mayer is finally acting his age. A juvenile, rockstar persona has been traded for the gentle, mellow sounds of folk and country. Although a jarring change of pace from his previous albums, this newfound genre, sparse and bare-boned, allows his soul to be laid bare and his heart to be worn on a scuffed, ragged sleeve. The album is cohesive, understated and brutally honest. Reminiscent of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, it would provide the perfect soundtrack to a road trip across the American mid-west.

With the release of a new album usually comes the hope of a worldwide tour, but earlier this year Mayer succumbed to a recurring throat infliction that cancelled any planned performances of the album due to ‘another surgery and a very long, chemically-imposed silence’. This fan has his fingers firmly crossed for the speedy recovery of his idol although the future is not all bad; John already has another album in the works, eager to make the most of his extensive time off the road with yet more writing and recording.

Lonely Boys Make A Masterpiece

Published in Woroni on February 12 2012.

Championing raw, uninhibited, bluesy rock and roll, The Black Keys seem an unlikely duo to strive to prominence within a music scene dominated by flimsy dance beats and fragile pop ballads. But, since winning the 2011 Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Album with Brothers, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have truly taken up the garage rock mantle left wide open by The White Stripes after their hiatus and eventual split last year.

El Camino represents a stunning development in The Black Keys’ signature sound. Although faithful to their musical origins, with their blues roots set solidly at the album’s core, this newest release provides listeners with a far groovier set of tracks that fall more kindly on ears tuned keener to pop sensibilities.

This new sound is heard none better than on the album’s opening track, “Lonely Boy”, which opens with a crunchy guitar riff, loaded on distortion and fuzz, before featuring a chorus catchy and lapped up by the radio waves. El Camino’s first single even experienced massive airplay on MTV; its music video, featuring nothing but an extra’s goofy but funkily retro dance moves, went virtually viral and has spawned almost as many tributes on YouTube as Beyonce’s “Single Ladies’”

“Little Black Submarines” is a compelling change of pace to the album; an introspective, mellow track accompanied by a wistful acoustic guitar that is worlds away from the band’s typical frenetic energy. The song is interweaved with stunning lyrics that show that the band, capable of more than just simple power chords and pounding drumbeats, can also appeal to listeners at an emotional level.

But, in true Black Keys fashion, the song breaks into an epic conclusion of gutsy, unrestrained vocals and a captivating guitar solo that I’ll happily admit to learning note-for-note on my dusty air-guitar. And it’s exactly that kind of album, the sort that is meant to be enjoyed at ear-splitting volumes, the sort perfect for viciously drumming along to with pencils and pens at your desk while an overdue assignment succumbs to a modern but irresistible rock album.

Keep your fingers crossed and an ear open for an Australian tour later in the year. Drummer Patrick Carney recently announced to Triple J that, despite cancelling their most recent tour dates in Australia to record El Camino, a trip down under is certainly on the cards within the next twelve months.