Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: Battle Studies, Common, John Mayer, John Mayer Trio, Releases of the Week, Robert Johnson
PREVIEW: VISIT John Mayer’s Website
WE GIVE IT: 10/20 Watts
There was a period when John Mayer had a lot of potential– right after the release of Heavier Things, when he started dabbling in side projects like the John Mayer Trio and collaborating with Common. Through these musical risks, it seemed as though his sound was evolving and maturing. After Continuum, Mayer’s latest album, Battle Studies would be the ultimate test – would he remain a crooning bedside lover with an acoustic guitar or, at the “Crossroads,” choose the more daring direction of his blues idols?
Unfortunately, Battle Studies is a step backward. For the most part, it sounds like a compilation of recycled melodies and second-rate lyrics left over from the past. Almost every guitar composition enclosed within each song is identical to one from a previous album. His duet with Taylor Swift in “Half Of My Heart” would have been cute a decade ago, but now it only represents his musical stagnancy and inability to break through the mainstream.
The heart-on-his-sleeve imagery Mayer attempts to milk worked when he was about 24. But he’s 32 now. And comparing failed relationships to a battlefield is no longer original, or even endearing. According to Mayer, his latest album, Battle Studies, should serve as a “heartbreak handbook,” as if this title couldn’t apply to any of his previous albums.
Despite the obvious letdown directionally, Battle Studies is enjoyable in the same superficial, yet comforting way all John Mayer albums are enjoyable. “Edge of Desire” features Mayer’s typical post-fight “please come back to bed” beseeching, and if you pretend it’s not a hackneyed topic on Mayer’s part, it’s even cute. Bits of the bursting-with-potential Mayer of yesteryear do peak through, however, like in his cover of Robert Johnson’s blues standard, “Crossroads.” But considering this album in its entirety, even these hints of what could have been fail to save this musician from his Adult Alternative destiny.
— Carly Wolkoff