Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Into Battle

Love him or hate him, John Mayer is good entertainment. His sultry guitar-led tunes are at odds with his tabloid presence, cemented by years of high-profile womanizing, and post Aniston he sadly seems to be known only for their on/off amour. He courts the press while trying to remain credible, and is famous for filling them in on his love life and generally oversharing, a trait that doesn't usually go with great songwriting and performance. I actually got into some of his older tracks before he hit the glossy pages of Look and Grazia, and I'm glad because Mayer deserves to be on your cultural radar for his soulful voice and masterful guitar skills, or at the very least, his tweeting (he recently reacted to outrage at Britney's miming on Twitter by posting "If you're shocked that Britney was lip-synching at her concert and want your money back, life may continue to be hard for you.") Follow him on Twitter now (@JohnCMayer) for some hilarious 140-character sparring between him and Perez Hilton.

A cocktail of tracks from his 2002 debut album Room for Squares, 2007's Continuum and his live album Where the Light Is add a range of chilled acoustic sounds and witty lyrics to my iPod which soothe my soul and tingle my spine in equal parts. Which is why I was so eager to download his latest effort, Battle Studies (released 16 November). At the height of his notoriety for all the wrong headlines, Mayer's people have obviously pushed for a suitably heartbroken and chastened album in the wake of the Jennifer Aniston affair, hence the title and slightly overstretched metaphor of love as battlefield. Expecting a feast of sensual pop-rock with real depth and honesty, I was sad to discover that Battle Studies is actually a little dull. Scrap that, 80% of the tracks are unbelievably skippable, with cliched lyrics, forgettable melodies and unremarkable riffs.

Mayer has really taken his eye off the ball here; in an effort to channel his gossip-column status he goes for the sympathy vote on Heartbreak Warfare, All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye and Friends, Lovers or Nothing, but they are so interchangeable it suggests a rushed album made to hit the shelves before the magazine pages cool. Half of My Heart featuring Taylor Swift (WHY?) only layers bland on bland, while attempting a cheeky nod at his womanizing ways.

There are a couple of lifelines; the funky Robert Johnson cover Crossroads adds some much needed tempo with its gospel-spiritual flavour and showcases the soul in his distinctive voice, while the jaunty 'Who Says' is mellow and folky with a witty edge. It harks back to some of the old John Mayer magic as he asks 'Who says I can’t get stoned / Call up a girl that I used to know / Fake love for an hour or so / Who says I can’t get stoned?' You can't help wishing he'd hit the ganja a little harder during recording, because the rest of this sober retrospective of his relationship scars is pretty banal.

Download: Who Says, Crossroads, Perfectly Lonely

From Mayer's back catalogue - Waiting on the World to Change, My Stupid Mouth, Your Body is a Wonderland, Stop This Train, Dreaming with a Broken Heart, Gravity, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

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