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John Mayer - The Search of Everything
Credit: SONY

You could easily describe John Mayer’s latest set in a single phrase: It’s a breakup album. But that glib shorthand does this probing set a disservice. While nearly every song addresses a lost love, the best ones deal with everything in life you can’t control, from the speed of your emotional evolution to your genetic makeup. “How much of my mother has my mother left in me,” Mayer asks during the crushing “In The Blood.” “What about this feeling that I’m never good enough? / Will it wash out in the water / Or is it always in the blood?”

Moments like these make The Search for Everything the most deeply personal album Mayer has ever released. At the same time, the slickness of the music blunts some of the impact. To nearly the same degree that Mayer’s lyrics explore the limits of control, his music seeks to enforce it. As always, his songs stick to a scrupulously tidy mix of pop-R&B and folk-rock. In both melody and arrangement, it’s tasteful to a fault. Same goes for his skilled and agile guitar licks, many of which recall the most reeled-in work of Eric Clapton’s solo career.

But if mellowness remains Mayer’s weakness, the brilliance of his best compositions provides a worthy trade-off. In the frank “Helpless,” he wrestles with his blind spots, while, in the finale, “You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me,” he hits a career peak. The song’s lyrics seem to salute a vanished lover, but they really address the rejected party’s curse: to live with an attraction so deep, he fears even the collapse of the universe won’t end it. Coupled with the Bing Crosby-like whistling and Billy Joel-esque melody, the song has the feel of a classic.

Key Tracks

“In The Blood”

Perhaps the first ballad to explore nature versus nurture.

“You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me”
It contains one of the albums smartest lyrics: “Time leaves no fruit on the tree.”