This retrospective review was originally published by MindEqualsBlown.
I wonder what John Mayer’s ten-year reunion was like. In his breakthrough record, Room For Squares, he references an event still four years into the future. Two years later, he released his second record to wide commercial success. Two more years and he would be laying down the pen after completing his third studio record. That’s three 2x platinum albums written in the course of five years. Take that class of ‘95.
Who from that class would have guessed that John C. Mayer from homeroom would have made it big? Not just big like Carly Rae Jepsen, Ke$ha, or Sham-wow guy big. Mega big. With a media presence like Mayer has had in recent years, it’s difficult to find a bigger personality in today’s entertainment world. What’s great about a retrospective review like this is the ability to take all of these things into consideration when recalling where the artists as big as John Mayer got their start. For this artist, that was Room For Squares.
Mayer’s major label inception begins with “No Such Thing,” arguably the biggest single from the record aside from “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” Co-written by Clay Cook, “No Such Thing” made a big impact on pop radio in 2002. I, myself, recall humming along to the song while running through the halls of the local recreation center where my mother worked at the time. As a child I loved the melodies that committed themselves to memory so easily. As time passed, the counter-melodies and harmonies lent themselves to my ears, expanding the track into a wide expanse of poppy-goodness which I was happy to wade through when scanning through the FM static of my car speakers. Its b-side “My Stupid Mouth” contains a faux-ending, blending conversation and music absolutely perfectly that still pleasantly surprises me with each listen.
The third single from the album “Why Georgia” is a contemplative one. “…am I living it right?” Mayer’s songwriting prowess made its debut here. The wordage is so strong and unheard, you can’t help but notice and admire the songwriter’s ability. Catchy and driving as well, “Georgia” is a mainstay on my summer playlists to this day.
Mayer continues to explore his songwriting techniques with the record’s second and most widely known single, “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” It’s intimate and, like most of Mayer’s songs of this period, paints a picture of the scene (I imagine an oak four-poster with sheets of a high thread count. The dude is loaded right?) Forever on the teenage lovers mixtape, “Wonderland” is outshone by the following track, “Neon.”
Driven by a catchy guitar loop stuck on repeat, “Neon” is just as bright and attractive as the “open” signs hung in bar windows. This is a true jam and a true Mayer fan’s jam at that. I recall many a post-school bell parking lot session just singing along, my friends doing their best John Mayer live faces. Good times.
Songs like “City Love,” “Great Indoors,” and “Not Myself” have stood the test of time despite being overshadowed by the towering giant that is the first half of the record, but they still pale in comparison to the nostalgic anthem “83” and lyrical field-trip “3×5.” Nevertheless, they contribute great lyrical substance to the album. I will say that “Not Myself” is the only song on the album I don’t know the words to in full, after almost ten years of listening. “City Love” however is masterful in its lyrical craft and can’t help but be remembered.
To be a kid again… Mayer recalls simpler times with “83.” Before Hollywood actresses and Playboy interviews, there was a little boy with Snack Packs and action figures. Writing back to that version of himself gives us a great tune that’s carried out by small guitar and percussive breakdown detailing the anguish of lost childhood memorabilia. (Where is my erector set mom?)
“3×5” will always remind me of my grandfather who carries the cards of such dimensions in his breast pocket on a daily basis. This song really captures the early ’00s pop-rock sound I so dearly crave in this now all-digital world. Replicating the sound made by songs such as this or perhaps Josh Kelley’s “Amazing” is no longer an easy feat it seems. It’s a shame – the majority of this album crafted my taste in my youth and is now reminding me that I’m getting old and my tastes are becoming dated.
“Love Song For No One” and “Back to You” round out the record with some more pop licks and melodies that keep the listener singing right into the somber but great “St. Patrick’s Day.” While titled after a March holiday, it’s a winter holiday tune with throbbing hums of bass guitar and ringing bells. A perfect closer to the album, much like Christmas to the end of the year.
Room For Squares has remained one of my favorite pop records throughout time, only being joined by more of Mayer’s discography like Battle Studies which is being reviewed by Riley-Scott McClellan here. If only more albums from that time could have that lasting power like JM’s debut.
Mayer didn’t really get around to his more bluesy guitar work until Heavier Things in 2003. His debut showed us the pop side that he yearned to pursue after calling it quits at Berklee College of Music. This is where his journey began. This was the starting point. Not too bad for a kid from Connecticut. Say what you will about the man, but he’s a master at his craft, whatever he decides that craft will be.