New Music Friday: John Mayer and 98 Degrees

There is plenty of new music from my indie rock/American wheelhouse that I could write about today including new albums by Clairo, Lawrence Rothman, and Willow. Instead I’m going to step outside my wheelhouse and write about the new yacht rock album by John Mayer and a new pop single by 98 Degrees.

I do not like John Mayer. I have never liked John Mayer. He was starting at a disadvantage with me in that his debut album was one of the in-store plays back when I worked at Barnes & Noble. Even if you like music hearing it over and over again while you’re working is bound to make you hate it eventually. I really only ever liked the song “Neon” off that album, so it wasn’t the repetitiveness that completely ruined it for me, but it certainly didn’t help. I just don’t like whatever genre of music John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Jason Mraz fall into. I once took an Uber from San Francisco to the Oakland airport in which the driver had a playlist of those three artists on shuffle and I really wanted to give him a bad rating because of it. Don’t worry; I didn’t.

Anyway, John Mayer has a new album called Sob Rock out today that is homage yacht rock. They were talking about it on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast this morning and someone said “I regret to inform you that John Mayer’s new yacht rock album is actually good.” I like yacht rock a lot and didn’t completely hate the snippet of the song they played, so it made me curious enough to listen to the whole thing. So here’s the thing. The album does indeed very much sound like yacht rock in its musical style. Most of it does feel like an homage to the genre, but sometimes it also feels like it’s making fun of it. I mean if you’re going to make a song that sounds like Air Supply’s “Even the Nights are Better” with the chorus,

Why you no love me?
Why you no love me?
Why you no even care?
Why you no love me?
Why you no love me?
Why you no will be there?

it’s going to sound like a parody. My problem is that ultimately it still sounds like John Mayer. I had the same problem with Taylor Swift’s folklore. Yes, I like the music at the root of the songs better, but the voice is still the same and you can’t get away from that. There are a bunch of instrumental breaks in the songs that I would really be digging and then John Mayer would start singing again and ruin it all for me. Something about his voice is just not for me. If you are a John Mayer fan and you do like yacht rock, you should love this album. And I do have to give him credit for going all in on the aesthetic. I mean the music video for “Shot in the Dark” looks like it came straight out of the 80s.

I also wanted to talk about the new 98 Degrees song, “Where Do You Wanna Go” that I ran across last night. I was just slightly too old to be super into the 90s boy bands. I live in the world so of course I know plenty of songs by the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, but I was never a groupie and don’t even think I owned any of their albums. During my senior year of college my roommates and I were super into whatever Backstreet Boys album was popular at the time, but in a sort of ironic way, and I don’t think I’m the one who owned the CD (kids ask your parents). I also know that 98 Degrees was a band and I’m absolutely certain that I know one or two of whatever their hit songs were at the time, but I cannot tell you what they were without Googling, which I have not done.

This new song is a bop though. It’s got a great fun, summer pop song vibe that I’m digging. I do have to say that the video makes me kind of sad because it’s like these 40 year old guys still acting like they are 20. It’s a weird thing about being a boy band. People want you to look and sound like you did when they were all in love with you as teenagers, but now you’re old and it just seems like you’re sadly trying to recreate your youth even though what’s happening is that people want you help recreate theirs. So maybe just go listen to the song somewhere without the video and forget that these guys aren’t actually in their 20s anymore and just enjoy the music.

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