Track Review: John Mayer – Carry Me Away

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Release date: 06/09/19
Label: Columbia Records

“I’m such a bore / I’m such a bummer,” Mayer laments over plucky drum-machine snares and a palm-muted acoustic guitar. “There must be more behind this summer,” he continues, playfully. Mayer’s recent musical direction has been increasingly dappled: though certainly not genre-less, his singles output has been of mixed stylistic influence, this year’s ‘I Guess I Just Feel Like’ harkening back to the days of Born and Raised but fused with an outro of the arena-style bombasticism with which Mayer is so comfortable and so successful, and ‘New Light’ taking the singer-songwriter in a new sonic direction, collaborating with producer No I.D. to create a loop-driven synthetic tune only inflected with guitars (rather than led by). His most recent album – 2016’s The Search for Everything – prefigured this style-jumping, with a record that acted as a collage for Mayer’s influences and means of songwriting (in my opinion, one of his best and most colourful projects). John continues to experiment with his sound on this single, employing new stylings (most notably, as mentioned, an electronica-influenced drum machine) to push the envelope of his material.

I really like this track. The simple chord progression acts to bring a sense of nostalgia to the song (clearly crucial to the lyrical concept), with the first verse’s scarce instrumentation spotlighting the lyrics to introduce a playfully wistful tone – the melody sounds a little played-out here, with the predictable bounce of the rhythm working against the effortless feel that the track seems to want to cultivate, but it isn’t a massive hang-up. High-string electric guitars also appear infrequently to bolster the chord progression with tropical-sounding licks, developing a sonic idyllicism that nears island-pop tendency; it works. The subsequent explosive, jangly strings of the chorus are a rewarding progression after a chord-tense pre-chorus, coming in alongside the musical resolution to feel like a satisfying buildout. “Carry me away,” is sung in a varying melody – by now, the track’s intention is clear, and the audience can pretty-much relax into an instrumental ragbag of a pretty pop tune. For the most part, it is successful in this, if, at this point, feeling jumbled.

Any inkling of ill-will or hesitation about the track’s hodgepodge nature largely depart after this first chorus, as the piano chords, rattling strings and punchy snares of the chorus section continue through an interlude and into the second verse, expanding the track’s sound with the inclusion of more melodic rhythm-section guitars alongside pleasing list-style lyrics that develop the tune past the simplicity of the first verse’s formulaic melody. This is where the track really starts to take flight, with the instrumentation used beautifully to lead into a second chorus — by this point, I’m sold on the sentimentality that the track presents. Mayer refrains from a bridge section, instead riffing on the chorus’ melodies by adding new lines (“where the sun hits my face all different”) and moving to new chords towards the end to transition charmingly into the song’s conclusion.

Clocking in at just 2:37, Mayer’s latest is a sparkling cut that uses emotive instrumentation to strengthen the lyrical premise of the desire to live a more daring life (written with his usual ability to make a done-before thematic idea feel new and resonant). It is a quaint track, at first disorganised but quickly convincing, and cements to me that John’s current direction – pulling from varied places but retaining the sense of nostalgia that makes his music special – could well continue to be a successful one, come his next project. Here’s hoping.

Header image: Columbia Records
Article image: Danny Clinch

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