Mayer credits much of the record's strength to the grooves laid down by his drummer and coproducer, onetime Keith Richards sideman Steve Jordan. "His muscle is so fantastic when you pair it with my very floral sensibility," Mayer says. "I love pretty. . . . I looove pretty."

Aesthetics are important to Mayer—to an extent that would probably give his business manager sleepless nights were the singer ever to make an album that merely went gold. Mayer's "voracious curiosity for things"—as he describes it—has led him to accumulate vast collections of watches, guitars, cars, Leica cameras, and women's leather bags. (When Mayer eulogizes the cherry-blossom-print bag the artist Takashi Murakami designed for Louis Vuitton, there are shades of Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel and his "chapeau shop.") Occasionally, he will actually wear one of the Rick Owens leather jackets he's bought—but the sales tags will never be removed. Welcome to life in the fastidious lane.

"I have the obsessiveness of someone who's a sober, recovering addict displacing his addiction," Mayer says. "Except I never had the addiction." He says that these days he savors his artistic autonomy as much as his financial independence. "I'm in the place of greatest freedom right now—not giving a fuck," he says, taking a seat in the Chateau Marmont's courtyard restaurant. "I have what I would consider artistic tenure, and I created it for myself. I don't have anybody telling me what to do." Despite the fact that he had already sold nearly 12.5 million albums, Mayer does not feel completely secure financially. "I don't have 'fuck-you' money," he says. "I have 'that's my seat' money."

The idea of a 32-year-old pop star talking about "artistic tenure" may seem a little preposterous, but to be fair, the Maharajah of Mainstream is hardly overreaching with that claim. In fact, at this stage of his career Mayer could fairly be described as an icon—although what he's an icon of is hard to grasp. How does someone who makes such inoffensive music manage to offend so many people? Although he doesn't seem excessively arrogant for a multimillionaire rocker, when Mayer speaks he has a tendency to deliver his lines—whether sincere or surreal—deadpan. When written, the words convey something different from what they do in person, which can make Mayer appear obnoxious.