This isn't the John Mayer that millions of screaming teenagers, including myself, fell in love with. Or is it? In "Who Did You Think I Was," he seems to be anticipating some flack about his full-blown move to Blues. I can just imagine whimpering little girls saying, "But, but this isn't you! Where are my poppy beats? Where is your acoustic guitar? Why do you look like trash?" And to this, on top of an up-tempo electric jam, he answers with a question:
Am I the one who plays the quiet songs?
Is he the one who turns the ladies on?
Will I keep shining til my light is gone?
Who did you think I was?
Call it a sleezy bait and switch operation if you will, but I think he's doing us all a favor. He's like a rock evangelist, and he's reaching out to us poor saps for whom he might be the only
He made it easy on us, though. It started with live shows where he'd be, one minute, sitting in a fold-up chair crooning and telling us about how our bodies are wonderlands and, the next minute, curled over an electric guitar jamming out tunes that resulted in things like the over-ten-minutes-long "Covered in Rain" on his double live album Any Given Thursday. And then Heavier Things gave us more electric than acoustic and a collection of songs that were soft in the studio and rock hard on stage. He was taking his pop music crowd and teaching them a lesson. He's been saying, "You liked that? Okay, now listen to some real music."
Who did we think he was?
He's sure not the guy who plays the quiet songs. These days, I'm hearing things that sound more like "Pride and Joy" than the songs from the golden days of "No Such Thing." He's even traded in some of his deep and brooding lyrics for some brief, yet poignant, lines for repeating.
And is he the guy who turns the ladies on? He might be, but he's looking more and more like JMG every day. And his voice, if you listen to "Need No Doctor" that he recorded with John Scoffield, isn't the same boyish sugar-fix we used to depend on. It's got the no-holds-barred brashness of experience. It made me stop and think, "Is this even John Mayer singing?" But all it took was a few pitchy squeaks, and I knew it was him.
But there are still slow songs to be found, and that soothing voice hasn't vanished. "Dreams to Remember," a track he laid down with Buddy Guy, is a slow one and his voice has the same quiet pleading to it as "Come Back to Bed." But it's a long way from Wonderland.
His side project the John Mayer Trio -- which I think is less a side project than an attempt to do what he's been wanting to do all along -- is putting out their live album Try! on November 22. I, of course, will be all over it.