John Mayer’s ‘Vultures’ teaches us that not all problems are easily solved, and every light has its shadow.
Stream: “Vultures” – John Mayer
It has been well over a decade since John Mayer released Continuum, which debuted at Number 2 on the US Billboard Top 200 chart and then won the 2007 Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. Although, despite reaching its fourteenth birthday, many of the tracks on Continuum remain relatable in 2020 — “Vultures,” in particular, stands out as a truly timeless song that feels and sounds just as good now as it did then. Since Continuum and “Vultures” were released, Mayer has produced a great deal of wonderful work but arguably nothing that rivals the slow to mid-tempo, reflective and vulnerable perfection that he offered us on Continuum.
John Mayer, in general, is a very nostalgic artist for me. I was only 10 in 2006 when Continuum was released and at that time my musical exploration was still limited to pop-punk. So, it took until 2009 when Mayer released Battle Studies for me to discover any of his music. However, once I did, his entire back-catalogue became the soundtrack to every long-distance car and coach journey I took as a teenager (of which there were many). Something about the airy, soft and easy energy of John’s music appealed to me when I travelled. To this day, I find long-distance travelling evokes melancholy and reflective emotions and Continuum and Battle Studies seem to match that energy perfectly without bringing me down.
By many, John Mayer is considered a ‘pretty-boy’ pop star, which is a true but not all-encompassing view. His mainstream looks and largely pop discography should not overshadow the fact that he is an extremely skilled guitarist and insightful songwriter who experimented with mixing genre way before it was cool. Not one of the tracks on the Continuum record venture out of the slow to mid-tempo range and each respectively toys with elements of blues, folk, R&B and rock. These elements of the album may not seem revolutionary now but in 2006 when high-tempo mainstream pop and R&B ruled the world, mixing in heavy blues and folk influences would have been considered bold and somewhat leftfield.
Recently, I’ve been travelling more frequently again. I’ve just started out in my career properly and my commute to work is an hour each way, so I’ve had more time to think and reflect. Mayer’s vocals on “Vultures” are soft and alluring and the lyrics apply to me more than ever, so naturally, it has become one of my most frequently played songs again.
How do I stop myself from
Being just a number?
How will I hold my head
To keep from going under?
The beauty of this song is that although its lyrics are extremely relevant to Mayer’s rise to fame and the struggles that go along with that emotionally, they also pertain to the thoughts many of us face when pursuing new ventures. The musical accompaniments of a funky piano, bluesy guitar riffs and simple drums faultlessly add to the theme of perseverance despite frustration (to which I feel we all can relate) that “Vultures” tries to depict.
Down to the wire
I wanted water but I’ll walk through the fire
If this is what it takes to take me even higher
Then I’ll come through like I do
When the world keeps
testing me, testing me, testing me
Moving on, whether it be from home, from friendships and relationships, or in your career can be simultaneously the hardest and most exciting process to go through. “Vultures” may be written as an ode to the struggles of fame and the hangers-on that cling to it, but the track can also easily be interpreted as a realisation that all endeavours, even those from your wildest dreams, have drawbacks and sometimes you have to withstand the pitfalls to get to where you want to be.
Power is made by power being taken
So I keep on running
To protect my situation
As “Vultures” continues the music builds slightly, becoming electrifyingly groovy and Mayer’s voice starts to exude a power that is not present at the beginning of the song. Whilst the change is quite subtle and the track remains within the mid-tempo realm, it is poignant nonetheless. The musician’s choice to restrain “Vultures” from becoming uptempo towards the end is exceptionally clever as it allows the emotions to stay simmering rather than reach the crescendo moment where they are solved. Many struggles, such as those touched on in “Vultures,” are either long-term or permanent and cannot be easily solved or removed. The consistent level which “Vultures” remains at is a great metaphor for the perseverance required to endure these types of problems in order to reach a set goal.
What’cha gonna do about it?
Don’t give up, give up, give up
I love “Vultures” because it offers me strength whilst also allowing me to sit with my melancholic emotions instead of trying to throw them away.
When I was 13 or 14 the things I yearned, longed and grieved for were very different but “Vultures” resonates with me just as well now as it did all those years ago. This song is the perfect nostalgia track because it has grown with me, as I am sure it has for many.
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