Earlier this week, John Mayer released the cover image of his upcoming eighth studio album Sob Rock, out July 16, along with a few seconds of his new single “Last Train Home.” The very retro cover and the Sony Watchman had us intrigued as to what the genre of “Sob Rock” might sound like, and what John Mayer has in store for a post-pandemic summer.
“Last Train Home” has now officially left the station, and the news is better than we dared to hope. From what we can tell in the song and the video, Sob Rock will be released on July 16 of 1989.
The song has the Stevie Ray Vaughan with synths sound palette of that late ‘80s moment when rock music had to appeal to teenagers and their parents at the same time. For a brief moment in the time before Nirvana, if you weren’t listening to pop or metal, your only mainstream rock choice was adult contemporary. This was a time when a Rod Stewart could still have hits, when our young people would snap up records by Phil Collins and Peter Cetera. We were all dental hygienists for a moment back then. We all bumped the Listen At Work Station, and we tried to be the 19th caller with The Phrase That Pays to win those Natalie Cole tickets. It was not cool, but there is liberation in forfeiting that option.
But we have to get to the “Last Train Home” video, because here is where I think Mayer is really defining the vibe.
This is pure 1989. The film stock. The empty Union Station. The very Tony Scott shafts of light through dusty windows. The behind-the-scenes element. All of it. It is pure VH1, but from the time Rosie O’Donnell and Don Imus were VJs. It’s heaven and I want to buy property inside it.
The video and vibe that come to mind are “Call It Love” by Poco, who had had a couple of huge hits in the late ‘70s: “Heart of the Night” and “Crazy Love,” both still bangers and both probably considered Yacht Rock. In 1989, they came back—with an assist by Richard Marx, also huge at the time and very possibly an early practitioner of sob rock—with an album called Legacy. They seemed inconceivably old to a teenager at the time. Like can they still operate a guitar old. They were all in their early forties, as Mayer is now.
This video makes me wish Mayer had gone further with “Last Train Home.” Give us a model in a sundress pounding on the steaming hood of a busted Studebaker in the desert, John. Give us old men playing checkers, cooling their foreheads with sweaty glass bottles of orange sodey-pop. We must assume Sob Rock will have more singles and videos, so there is still time, but let’s get those casting sessions planned.
There’s also a touch of late ‘80s Eric Clapton in the whole enterprise, just a dollop of “Forever Man,” a pinch of “Pretending.”
Apple Music now has the final Sob Rock album cover, which now bears the coup de grace: a The Nice Price sticker. They also have the full tracklist, which includes a song called “Why You No Love Me” which I will now spend the next six weeks worrying about. But the songs Mayer has released in the last three years—“New Light,” “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” and “Carry Me Away—sound fresh in this new context. They call to mind that Don Henley midlife album—with Charlie Sexton on guitar!—that a high school junior would buy with her own money. They feel like part of a whole album that’s about moving into middle age but still employs the kids’ sounds (back then: synthesizers and drum machines, now: the same thing but filtered through Poolside.FM). It is music meant for montages and now I can’t wait to make my own.
This has the potential to be either a very sexy or a very volatile summer, maybe both. We will need a vibe to wrap ourselves up in for comfort. John Mayer seems to understand the weight of his assignment. So far, A+. I’ll be listening to it all day, and at 5 p.m., it will be paired with a wine cooler.
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