“Gravity” / John Mayer
My first impression was, this guy is too good-looking to be talented – that shaggy mane of dark curls, those heavy-lidded brown eyes, the softly parted full lips, all those shots of him in a snug black t-shirt. The first Mayer songs I heard, on film soundtracks, were sensitive-guy seductions like “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “Come Back To Bed,” and I resented their husky sexiness (plus I resented feeling them loosen my strings too, right according to formula). I figured it was the old Jon Bon Jovi Syndrome – if his handlers have to push his sexpot image, then how good can his music be?
Then I saw the John Mayer Trio live, and man, it was time to revise my opinion. Watching Mayer on stage, showing off deft and passionate bluesy guitar chops, I could see how much he dug making the joint howl and jump. Suddenly it occurred to me that he’d done what any aspiring musician would do – recorded some surefire radio hits, and let the company sell whatever image of him they could sell. Time enough to gain credibility later.
Try!, his 2005 live album with the John Mayer Trio, was a major play for credibility; next came a guest appearance on the Eric Clapton-J.J. Cale album The Road to Escondido (the track is called “Hard to Thrill”), a very impressive resumé item. His 2006 album Continuum carries on in the same vein, though a love song here or there makes me think John’s not ready to throw away the swooning female fans quite yet. Hey, when you have a voice as honey-laden and soulful as Smokey Robinson’s, you’d be a fool not to put a couple lovesick tracks on every album.
This song “Gravity” is on both Try! and Continuum; I prefer the live track on Try!, though I expect that's because I am still intoxicated with the memory of Mayer performing it. The lyrics aren’t much – a series of complaints about the force of gravity, which I take to mean the downer aspects of reality – but he sure can get a woeful timber going in his voice, and that sleepy syncopation keeps us just slightly shifting and swaying the whole time. As the melody climbs up to the word “gravity,” Mayer gives that triplet an odd vocal shiver, like it’s some radioactive substance he doesn’t want to get near. I have no idea what he means by “Twice as much ain’t twice as good / And don’t sustain like one half could,” but by that point I’m sunk into that gently lurching beat, usually with my eyes closed, ready for the yearning falsetto yelp at the end of “That’s gonna send me to my knees.”
The last minute and a half is a drawn-out repetition of the cry “Just keep me home where the light is,” and Mayer delivers the line with building passion each time, hitting the high notes on “home” and “light” just a hair off the beat, like a jazz scat. Maybe it’s not a great song, but it’s a brilliant performance all right. Respect must be paid.
So first impressions can be wrong. And hey, you never know – next week I might even revise my opinion of Justin Timberlake.