John Mayer, 39, and his music are aging like a well-worn pair of jeans – getting a little too comfortable and a little bit lackluster.
On Friday, Mayer released “The Search for Everything – Wave One,” consisting of the first four songs of the singer-songwriter’s partially released seventh studio album.
For a musician once known as much for his serial dating as for his songwriting, Mayer does bring a sense of thematic personal and romantic maturity to his latest album, especially compared to his early “Your Body is a Wonderland ” material from 2001.
The first studio compilation for Mayer since 2013’s “Paradise Valley,” the new album features the previously released single “Love on the Weekend,” a downtempo ballad that feels more at home on a ’90s soft rock radio station than on a 2017 Spotify playlist.
But overall, the four songs of “The Search for Everything – Wave One” fail to show much willingness for musical experimentation given the artist’s decadeslong career or any attempts by the artist to turn up the volume on his soft rock roots. Instead of serving as an enticing hook to hype listeners up for Wave Two, the first four unsubstantial tracks signal listeners to proceed with caution.
“The Search for Everything – Wave One” opens with “Moving On and Getting Over.” The percussively punchy hook, “But I still can’t seem to get you off my mind,” marks the album’s closest attempt at achieving a foot-tapping beat.
The entire time, the song feels as though it is building up to break free from the feeble pulse of its 95 beats-per-minute cadence, but the would-be moment of climax never comes. Instead, Mayer continues casually crooning about staying “one text away from being back again” with only a brief guitar solo to split up the monotony – and the result is a post-breakup song that is more ruminative than rousing.
Listeners ready for Mayer to change up the vibe after the apathetic first track should skip the second song, “Changing,” a piano-driven number lacking chordal complexity or passionate vocals to match the song’s sentimental theme of growing up.
While Mayer has made acoustic songs impactful in the past – his stripped-down rendition of “XO” from 2014 comes to mind – “Changing” lacks the emotive depth of a successful acoustic track.
The repetitive lyrics, largely centered on “changing,” belie Mayer’s chops as a Grammy-winning songwriter. Mayer adds in embellishing twangs of electric guitar, but the energetic instrumental interlude feels out of place after minutes of Mayer’s impassive singing – it fails to justify the abrupt musical shift.
The redeeming number on “The Search for Everything – Wave One” is its final track, “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.” Bluesy and effortless, the track sounds reminiscent of a Randy Newman composition, a sunny semblance to familiar songs “Sail Away” and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
The song brings out a tender side in Mayer as he half-whispers the lyrics, “Time leaves no fruit on the tree / But you’re gonna live forever in me” in wistful contrast to the track’s opening of cheery whistles, providing just enough emotional range to give the simple song intrigue.
That being said, “You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me” would have been a stronger number had it been the only slow song on an album featuring more variety, rather than on a four-song set of solely sleepy songs.
“The Search for Everything – Wave One” is missing Mayer’s characteristic charisma; he needs to bring back the brawnier rock sound of his 2009 album “Battle Studies” to his next wave of tracks.
Ultimately, the album’s biggest weakness is its curation – Mayer chose to only release four songs for the first wave of his album, and all four feature similarly slow tempos and lethargic energy.
Mayer said in 2016 that he would be releasing the album in chunks because he’d written “more songs than can fit in your standard-sized album.” But for Mayer to maintain his status and relevance as a contemporary rock artist, he’ll need to deliver a more diverse set of anthems and match the quality of his subsequent releases to his promised quantity.
Fans ready for Mayer to reclaim the funkier, percussive sound of his early 2000s singles “Waiting on the World to Change” and “No Such Thing” will have to keep waiting.
As the album stands now, Mayer could certainly have stood to dig a little deeper in his search for everything.