John Mayer probably faced a lot of pressure to intro his second album (the excellent Heavier Things) with a radio accessible track. “Clarity” is an example of sliding in through the side door as opposed to the typical artist’s album strategy of sledgehammering the door down with the very first song. “Clarity” is defiantly chill. Roy Hargrove’s trumpet darts in and out of the mix, unhurried. Questlove plays drums lightly. John’s vocal is a ruminative whisper as opposed to a full-throated shout. There’s no chorus!
For years, I’ve had this vision of my head of “Clarity”’s intro sounding like waking up, and the outro sounding like going to bed. Now that I’ve explained the lyrics to myself, it makes a lot more sense. As you listen to “Clarity”’s lyrics, you realize that the song is about making the decision to cut someone loose, and being ok with that decision. He begins the song (wakes up) fraught with worry before revealing that he’s suddenly reached “a calm I can’t explain”. By the end of the song, John is saying “I won’t waste more time/remaining in our lives together” in full voice. He can go to bed with a clear head.