John Mayer's first major-label album frequently gets compared to the Dave Matthews Band's early albums, especially Crash and Under the Table and Dreaming, both favorably (by those who liked those albums) and unfavorably (by those who feel that Steve Lillywhite's "creative assistance" is the pop musical equivalent of the Borg). Who's right? Well, both sides have valid points. John Alagia (the album's producer) did some of the pre-production on those DMB albums, so if his sometimes heavy and syrupy touch on the mixing board reminds you of his mentor Steve's ability to turn anything into radio-friendly pop (or pap), well, he can't be blamed for his roots--this is the MegaCorp standard approach with an artist who is untested in the free market (not that radio is a free market... but that's another story). John Mayer fans should be happy that he's getting a chance to spread his wings and really sell some albums.
Just like on Under the Table and Dreaming, several tracks on Room for Squares are remixes or electric versions of songs that John had previously only released as much slimmer acoustic numbers: "No Such Thing", "83", "My Stupid Mouth", "Your Body Is a Wonderland", "Love Song for No One", and "Back to You" are all new versions, with John Mayer's great song outlines colored in with the pop crayon of some decent but undistinguished studio artists. It's John Mayer that comes through, though. I've heard a few tracks from Inside Wants Out and several live and acoustic MP3s, and I can't wait until his producers give him a little room to run and perhaps put out a more organic disc. And here's why:
Room for Squares is a pop masterpiece that every misunderstood and underappreciated teenage girl in America will buy. But I bought it, too, and I listen to it over and over again, for the same reason I overplayed Crash, Ten Summoner's Tales, Weezer's blue album, and Full Moon Fever--it's an awesome, catchy album without a bad song on it. No amount of name-calling or music-industry-bashing (and I'll be the first to cast my stone!) will make me give up this album. John's Sting influence comes through in some tracks (including an overt reference in "83", one of my favorites). One (angry, bitter) review I read chastised this album for being full of songs that Lloyd Dobler could blast at Diane's window. My response: "Yeah? And what's so bad about playing Sting (or was it The Police?) for the woman you love? Lord knows he's better at musical wooing than I am, and if he's selling it in a box, then I'm buying!" And who wouldn't want their music used in a Cameron Crowe movie? Perhaps the line "I just can't wait for my ten year reunion / I'm gonna bust down the double doors" invites comparisons with the 80's: the lines calls up Sting, John Cusack, John Hughes movies... and I (for one) happen to dig it. But I digress.
The album is inherently listenable. No two tracks stick out as the obvious obligatory radio singles, crammed as an afterthought into someone else's artistic vision for profit; each track gets by on its merits. Like the best Sting, David Gray, and Dave Matthews Band albums, Room for Squares is great make out music, running the spectrum from unrequited love ("Love Song for No One") to middle-age angst ("83" and "3x5") to sweaty, very-much-requited lust ("Your Body is a Wonderland"). Room for Squares is one of those rare gems: a pop album that won't go stale, because under all the slick marketing, there's real music there. If nothing else, Room for Squares will get fans out to John Mayer's shows, where he can show off his considerable talents, and build fan support for a simpler, more honest acoustic album without the crutches of smooth overproduction--he doesn't need them, and I'd rather see him succeed on his own.
Room for Squares - John Mayer, © 2001 Sony
Words & music by John Mayer except tracks 1,5, and 9, written by John Mayer and Clay Cook. Produced by John Alagia, recorded and mixed in Easton, MD. John Mayer's A & R for this album by Lee Dannay and Gregg Latterman.
- No Such Thing
- Why Georgia
- My Stupid Mouth
- Your Body is a Wonderland
- City Love
- Love Song for No One
- Back to You
- Great Indoors
- Not Myself
- St. Patrick's Day
Why no track 13? Could be superstition. Could be that at age 13, John Mayer was given his first tape of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I'm leaning towards the superstitious answer myself.