This seemed an apt song for a grey Saturday afternoon, in a town going back into COVID lockdown amid a near-record onslaught of new cases. While temperamentally well suited to a life sequestered here in my own little universe, a certain sense of melancholy does work its way into most everything you do, and don’t do, when you never go outdoors. In our current situation, Great Indoors might even seem to hit the nail a little too squarely on the head.
This is a song about a recluse, off of Mayer’s first major studio album Room for Squares, on which it was regarded as a minor track and generally overlooked in favour of crowd-pleasers like Your Body is a Wonderland. I find it touching and sympathetic, as the singer tries to coax the shut-in to come back into the world outside, apparently without success. It’s just so safe and secure indoors, with the blinds drawn, the posters making the walls go away, the TV serving as window, and the listener gets the feeling that the urge to stay locked away is in this case something much greater than shyness, perhaps rooted in some sort of trauma. In the lovely bridge, the singer seems to understand better than he’d like:
Though lately I can’t blame you
I have seen the world
And sometimes wish your room had room for two
… and at that the electric guitar seems almost to be weeping amid the descending chords.
Opinions have always been sharply divided when it comes to Mayer. He was greeted with an initial burst of huge enthusiasm, received all sorts of airplay, sold millions of albums, and won himself seven Grammys. Critics praised his guitar virtuosity, nuanced use of shifting, jazz-like chords, and often clever lyrics. Later on came the perhaps inevitable backlash, particularly in the wake of a disastrous set of interviews in 2010, in which Mayer uttered a number of very odd and distasteful sentiments, causing many to turn on him personally. A series of bitter, high profile schisms with a number of high profile girlfriends didn’t help. People stopped liking him. Suddenly his music was decried for being bland, middle-of-the-road pop contrived to please the average listener while breaking no new musical ground, and in many cases the criticism seemed apt.
Yet there’s something to be said for a well-crafted piece of pop music, isn’t there? Rock critics always want the music to be raucous and angry, and seem to react poorly to a song like Great Indoors, which aims instead to be sad, empathetic, tuneful, and evocative. I don’t know, maybe they’re right and I’m just a sap, but with this one I can’t help myself; there’s something so gentle and hopeful in the way the singer tries to persuade the TV-gazing introvert to go ahead and give the outside world another try. Maybe that’s because at this point, Mayer seems to be speaking directly to me.