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Album review: John Mayer's 'Battle Studies'

JOHN_MAYER_240 On the high-contrast black-and-white cover photo of John Mayer's latest studio album, the singer, songwriter and guitarist's hands are pulling at the collar of a thick winter coat. It seems as though he's trying to brace against the onset of frosty conditions; the overall effect is fairly Morrissey-esque.

That's no coincidence -- in themes and tone, Mayer shows a lot in common with the great romantic fatalist of '80s Brit pop: He's "Perfectly Lonely" in the song with that title, and he opens the collection with "Heartbreak Warfare," about the ways we hurt the ones we ostensibly love.

Musically he's exploring the moody territory of acts such as Coldplay and Snow Patrol; at the same time, he displays his debt to guitar heroes including David Gilmour, Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

For the most part, he expresses himself more eloquently through his guitar than his lyrics in the 10 of 11 songs he wrote. (Intriguingly, his version of Robert Johnson's blues classic "Crossroads" puts Clapton's signature blues-rock riff through effects processing that leaves it sounding like a keyboard.)

Why he decided to ape Dave Mathews in "Who Says," his ode to the benefits of escapism during down times, is anybody's guess, but it's set to a lovely country-rock shuffle. "Assassin" stretches the metaphor of a stealth killer too far, while "War of My Life" sets foot on U2's turf -- without the soul-deep passion of the Irish rockers. That deficit leaves many of the songs strangely uninvolving, despite the beauty of his melodies and empathetic production he and drummer Steve Jordan have given them.

The lesson of "Battle Studies"? If you're heading to war or in to love, better to take no prisoners.

-- Randy Lewis

John Mayer
"Battle Studies"
Columbia
Two and a half stars (Out of four)
 
Comments () | Archives (7)

I became a JM fan after hearing Continuum and the John Mayer Trio's album, Try!. As a guitarist, I share many influences with him, from Hendrix, to Clapton, and SRV, and I was impressed to hear how well he was able to channel their sound in his music.

I previously only thought of Mayer as the soft-girly-pop of "Your Body is a Wonderland", but gained respect for him through his insane covers of "Bold as Love" and "Wait til Tomorrow". I then went back a re-listened to his early albums and ended up enjoying them more than I thought I would.

When I first listened to Battle Studies in its entirety this morning, I was a little disappointed. Mayer has taken a step away from the blues-rock of Continuum and gone back to the adult-contemporary/pop-rock sound of Heavier Things. While the sound of Battle Studies is more mature than that of his sophomore album, the guitar lacks the power that I loved on Continuum.

Lyrically, I really enjoy some tracks, such as "Half of My Heart" or "Friends, Lovers, or Nothing" - but I think featuring Taylor Swift on "Half of My Heart" was a bit overkill. Some songs, like Heartbreak Warfare, sound overproduced. I did enjoy the finger-picked, raw sounds of "Who Says" and "Do You Know Me" though.

Overall, I think the album is good and worth adding to my collection, but it is hard to follow in the footsteps of Continuum.

A friend of mine recently told me that he thought John Mayer looks like a middle-aged woman in one of those old Blackglama "What Becomes A legend Most?" ads. Sadly (albeit hilariously), he really does!

....you completely by passed the BEST song on the Album Edge of Desire that is one amazing song

Hello LA Times copy editor: His name is spelled "Dave Matthews."

John Mayer is a philistine and a hack. His style is "borrowed" at best, made up of equal parts Dave Matthews and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He is a professional entertainer and not an artist...

I think it would be almost impossible for JM to make a bad album but this one is a far cry from all his others. It has none of the musical depth that he's capable of and, to me, seems like something he just threw together quickly. It also feels a bit self-pitying. I think he needs a swift kick in the butt. Get back to work John.

Those who trash this album don't seem to understand what it means to go through complete heartache from a failed relationship. While this was fed mainly by a highly public dissolution with someone whom he obviously had strong feelings for, I, for one, find the album spot on. I'm two weeks away from a divorce and can clearly hear his pain in every lyric because I'm living it right now. This album has become an anthem for me and it came at the right time. I love this album and have listened to it no less than 15 times today on my iPod at work. Not tired of it yet.........so lighten up people. Get your ass smashed by a soul killing break up and listen to it again. You'll see what I'm talking about.


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