John Mayer: "Heavier Things", 2003
So let’s face it. This album hasn’t even touched my list of albums that I’ve wanted to write about. I don’t know about you, but I got so sick of John Mayer right around the time when Waiting on the World to Change was playing everywhere, always. I really haven’t spent a great deal of time with him since then, although I was reminded that I don’t fully dislike him when his rendition of Human Nature was possibly my favorite part of MJ’s memorial.
All this to say that I surprised myself when I got a craving for Heavier Things while sitting in the library Tuesday afternoon, headphones on, attempting to find related books on the subject of God’s immutability (or mutability as the case may be). It was a really fantastic choice. As soon as Clarity began I found myself transported to an earlier, idealist state of mind – I could even imagine the paper I was working on being somehow personally significant. I think I’ll blame Roy Hargrove’s trumpet lines. They’re so full of joy. Only downside: It is very difficult to sit silently in the library while Johnny is yelling “someday I’ll fly, someday I’ll soar!” in Bigger than My Body.
It took a while, but about three quarters of the way through Something’s Missing I pull myself out of the books, struck by my appreciation for Mayer’s transitions. Whether they are instrumental breaks (like the hot trumpet break in Clarity) or a wicked bridge like in Bigger than My Body, or in this case Something’s Missing’s outro: “How come everything I think I need always comes with batteries?” He finds a way of moving to a new thought or expression with a lot more ease than I tend to.
Which brings me to what I most appreciate about this album: the searching element. The whole thing is directed at the internal, and full of questions about the heavier things in life. What really matters anyway? What does it all mean? Is numb really the new deep? Even when he tries to convince us in New Deep that he’s given up on questioning the meaning of life in order to just chill out and have fun, he’s a lot more believable when he sings “look at the stars, don’t it remind you just how feeble we are?”
In general though, the album mainly is acting as a catalyst for me and the conscious world. I flip through a few books and bounce my chair in time, not getting too caught up in the lyrics. Still I can’t help but notice how even his stereotypical romantic ballads and pop tunes are framed in a bigger picture and question of purpose and meaning. Split Screen Sadness has almost none of the normal elements of a break-up song, probably because it’s not entirely clear that it is a break-up song, but regardless of what the rest of the story behind the song is, it’s terribly beautiful. For a long time it was my favorite of the album.
The only song on Heavier Things that doesn’t quite fit for me is Only Heart. Way too pop and electric on an album of diverse, but often acoustic instrumentation: sparse piano licks, rhythm guitar, brass, ect. Not to mention in an album of searching it sounds too simple, too easy. Like his semi-conclusion at the end of the album, when he seems to decide on a Karmic view of love and life. It’s a continuation of his earlier allusion to life-cycling in the ever heart-warming Daughters (which is in honesty a little much for me most days). Karma. It was inevitable – what else could he conclude? After his questions and reflections, all he can believe is that it must be worth something; what goes around must come back around, otherwise why even try? The just plain living-of-life requires some kind of faith. Maybe this is more true for those who register as NF on the Myers Briggs scale, but it’s still worth saying and exploring in an album so appropriately named.