Decoding John Mayer's Sob Rock, And Its Potential to Lift the National Mood
John Mayer has announced via Instagram that his eighth studio album Sob Rock, his first since 2017’s The Search For Everything, will be released July 16, preceded this Friday by a single called “Last Train Home.” The extremely online Mayer must have known he’d be naming a genre here, coining a term as has been done with “dad bod” and attempted with “cheugy,” begging for speculation as to what “sob rock” is.
But it’s been ages since we’ve had anything non-terrifying to speculate about, so let’s give the man what he wants.
Mayer is going for a vibe here, and so far, having heard about six seconds of music, I can tell you he’s nailing it. First, let’s address that album cover. (Above.)
If you were alive and of record-buying age in the 1980s, this album cover is as familiar and comforting as a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. The color palette, the soft light streaming in through Venetian blinds, the geometric shapes in the lower right hand corner that suggest John Mayer has a concrete orb in his home as furniture. These are like running into an old friend. One who has done some living. This is a very solo Eagle album cover. This is a very has contributed a song to the soundtrack of a Richard Gere erotic thriller album cover. You have seen this album cover on the wall of a Tower Records, on a Sunset Boulevard billboard, in your mailbox when you forgot to send the Columbia House postcard back in time. This album cover fucks.
Mayer, rocking, but not sobbing, at the 2021 Grammys.
Judging by what we see here, sob rock could be a derivative of DivorceCore, that genre of music from the ‘80s that allowed people in their forties to have hit singles. Mayer is 43 now, incredibly, coming up on the 20th anniversary of his debut album Room For Squares, and while he has not yet married (to our knowledge), this high-production sound does seem like the direction he’s going. He recently told the Wall Street Journal “I asked myself, ‘What music makes me feel like everything’s going to be OK?’ And it’s the music I listened to growing up in the ‘80s. There’s a security-blanket aspect about that sound that reminds me of a safer time.”
Sob rock might also be a cousin of yacht rock, the catch-all term for anything smooth that was played on the radio from 1975 to 1983, anything with a sax solo, anything recorded in a studio Michael McDonald so much as walked past. That was a glorious time for music, for heartbreak, for fern bars. We wouldn’t be mad at his take on it.
But, and it is strange to me that this is good news, the snippet of new music on Mayer’s most recent Instagram post (as of June 2) suggests Toto.
It’s a mellow mood, I think I hear a Linn drum, I get a whiff of soundtrack Clapton. It takes me back to 1984 when The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit cut his hair, turned into C. Thomas Howell, and released “Playin’ It Cool.”
Look, it’s not a great song, but it is a hell of a mood.
We’ll find out Friday exactly what Mayer is going for here, and for sure later this summer we will engage in tedious Twitter arguments about what is and is not sob rock. But for now, it seems like he knows he has a national mood to lift, and our bodies are ready.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.