Battle Studies – JOHN MAYER – 2009

John Mayer is one smart cookie. He knew he was a blues loving guitar guy, but he stuck it out with romantic lyrics and acoustic guitar on stuff like “Your Body is a Wonderland”. He built up a following, and then decided to drop the foreplay and go for the full-fat guitar hero with The John Mayer Trio. So far so good. But then he made the puzzling decision to dial back the blues. As a result, this is poppier fare than I expect from a post-trio excursion by Mayer.

Stud boi.

I think the trio was his lazy weekend, and this is his bread-and-butter music. Don’t take this in the wrong way. I’m not deriding him at all. It’s good music, especially the first track, “Heartbreak Warfare”. It goes easy on fiery guitar and rests on a pillowy soft bed of bass provided by the very capable hands of Pino Palladino. But- and this is a big but- I think he could have done better. I think he is better off being the axe-slinging-bluesman than singer-songwriter-with-acoustic-guitar, which is massively overdone in today’s musical landscape. Continuum is ample proof of the fact that a heavily blues tinged album can sell. Despite all the pop compromise however, it’s heartening how Mayer can’t resist the bluesman inside from getting out occasionally. The Robert Johnson cover “Crossroads”, is extremely cool and a lot of fun, assisted by the giddy lead guitar and Stevie Wonder-esque riff.

For a man whose public persona is very conspicuously that of a humorous ladies man, he writes surprisingly heartfelt, if annoyingly soppy lyrics. Lyrics like “All we ever say is Goodbye” and “Half of my Heart” could just as easily be Westlife , which is disappointing. C’mon man!! Do yourself a favour and write something a little cooler, and less directly aimed at making teenaged girls faint and be carried out of the arena a la The Beatles. That said, he is one of the few songwriters these days who doesn’t hide behind eccentric enunciation of syllables to hide utterly crappy euphemisms referring to sex. He sings each word, and each syllable, giving it all equal importance. Good going.

Moving to talking about the actual music, its all very nice, if a little too poppy. His guitar work is a marvellous study in well considered mellifluous notes thought through carefully. But it isn’t as memorable as on Continuum. It’s hard to top the saccharine loveliness of the lead in “Waiting on the World to Change”, but he can try. Of course, with all the economized solos, he carefully leaves enough space for extended soloing and playing the guitar with his teeth, behind his back etc. live.

It’s a very good album, of course, what with Steve Jordan and Mayer’s production capabilities ensuring that it all sounds peachy. Steve Jordan’s influence is pretty evident, as the drums are probably a little louder than usual in a pop album. It’s a good decision, and the loudish drums- especially in “Assassin”- drive the album along. Earlier, I said that the bass is in the capable hands of Pino Palladino. I should have said ‘capable albeit unambitious’. His playing breaks no new ground, and is a bit boring. But then, that’s expected in an album by a guitar player.

This a great album that will sell millions, but my personal opinion is that this is too safe, too pop and too I-must-not-lose-my-fanbase. It’s a little disappointing after Continuum and The John Mayer Trio, but for what it is, it sounds right.

-El Bajista

More JOHN MAYER (so far only one album) HERE.

More of what he should be playing – BLUES/BLUES-ROCK – HERE.


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