John Mayer - Battle Studies
After three years of relative silence, John Mayer, America's favorite heartbroken guitar virtuoso, has returned to the spotlight with his fourth studio record. The album's title, Battle Studies, is indicative of the album's overarching theme: that love is a universal struggle, full of compromises, joys, and hardships, and this is Mayer's introspective reflection on his personal "battles." Like Kanye West's deeply intimate 808's and Heartbreak, the album packs less punch than its predecessor; however, it still brings tangible emotionalism and some of the slick guitar licks that gained Mayer his well-deserved fame and numerous Grammy nods.
Mayer is obviously jaded on Battle Studies, which is revealed on the album's initial track, "Heartbreak Warfare." The song's central groove and twinkling guitars lay down the ideal melody for a hit single, and Mayer's reverberating wails of "heartbreak" gives the song the overt emotionalism Mayer fans cling will to, although the song's trite subject matter, love as a war, somewhat minimizes its broader appeal.
For a vocal-centric album, emphasizing Mayer's dreamy voice more than the instrumentals, the opening song's lyrics, with their simplistic and repetitive rhyme scheme, are unfortunately pedestrian, "Push it in and twist the knife again / Watch my face as I pretend to feel no pain." Nevertheless, Mayer's chiming guitar solo sprinkles beauty over the mundane, and the song ultimately plays out as a successful combination of the melancholic sentiments of Coldplay with the transcendent guitars of Santana.
Mayer's single, "Who Says," is a simplistic song about yearning for a carefree lifestyle in New York City, conjuring the lyrical sentiments of Bright Eyes' melancholically acoustic, "Lua," with less lyrical depth and poignancy. Still, the song is a guitar-plucking, melodic tune about challenging social sexual standards, further positing Mayer as the quintessential ladies' man. He callously questions, "Who says I can't get stoned? / Call up a girl that I used to know / Fake love for an hour or so."
On the album's longest track, "Friends, Lovers or Nothing," Mayer blurts out more depthless lyrics, singing what seems destined to be Facebook quotes from everyone frustrated with his/her "it's complicated" relationship status, like, "Friends, lovers, or nothing / We'll never be the in between / So give it up."
"Assassin" is also a bit hokey, again overdramatizing love through violent metaphors. In this instance, a lust-craving man is surprised to meet a woman with the same sexual desires, finding her too to be an "assassin:" "I'm an assassin and I had a job to do / Little did I know that girl was an assassin too." Mayer seems to be more concerned with texture rather than lyrics, though, letting each track's emotions direct the melody and tempo, which compensates for some of the amateurish writing.
For instance, on "Assassin," the technique with which Mayer weaves in the grimy guitars of the song's chorus to a gentle choir of voices, which suggests his emotional epiphany, is seamless and brilliantly cathartic, showing that it is not so much what he is directly saying that is important, but the feelings embedded within his words. In moments like this, when Mayer's guitars do the talking, he shines the brightest.
All in all, this is Mayer's quieter release compared to 2006's Continuum, yet it is still a very admirable album, especially if one can overlook some of the album's overused metaphors and overly simplistic lyrics. Because this kind of album has been made before, Mayer makes sure to leave his signature stamp on Battle Studies, creating a catchy, sometimes beautifully constructed, and sometimes frustratingly cliché, record that is sure, at least, to appease old fans and is likely to persuade others to jump on the John Mayer bandwagon. Rumor is Jennifer Aniston's spot is vacant.
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on 2010-02-17 donazuleika Said:
John Mayer admitted in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine that, if he said "Battle Studies" was as good as "Continuum", he would be bullshitting all of us. And anyone familiar with both these albums or, Mayer's complete trajectory (leaping from squealing girl anthem "Your Body Is a Wonderland" to "Bigger Than My Body", an anthem entirely his own), would have to agree with this statement. The real question is, when an album's own creator dismisses its grandeur, how fair would it be to say that it's simply not worth a listen?
In this particular case, not fair at all. "Battle Studies" may be a noticeable step down and away from Mayer's incredible venture into the blues on his previous work, "Continuum", but in a world of its own, there's more to say and no need to compare.
The premise for the album is luring in itself - a handbook for the brokenhearted, a study in the twists and turns and pains that afflict, well... anyone with blood coursing through their veins. From the very first track, "Heartbreak Warfare", the music speaks a universal language. What's more familiar and known to us than heartbreak and war? It's a combo for the times. The delay effect on his guitar coupled with a few hits to the tremolo bar, offer the tune an eery, but anthemic backdrop that is very unlike Mayer's usual style, but works well with the allusions to lack of sleep and Ambien use.
It would've been interesting if the album maintained that vibe, but then it wouldn't be much of a handbook. A handbook needs to cover all the bases. Mayer does a good job with that, some of it clearly coming from the realm of personal experience. On more than one occasion he sings of long distance woes ("All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye" and "Edge of Desire"), and then shortly after the former, produces his very own guitar riffed version of Beyonce's "Single Ladies", entitled "Perfectly Lonely". It is one of two moments Mayer comes close to his work on "Continuum". The lyrics carry a witty edge (""Nothing to do/Nowhere to be. A simple little kind of free.") reminiscent of tracks such as "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" and "I'm Gonna Find Another You".
Yet, it's easy to distract oneself from the substance in the album when pop/country superstar Taylor Swift makes even the subtlest of appearances. In fact, her participation would probably go unnoticed or unrecognized to anyone that didn't look at the track list. Mayer's move was an unexpected one that could be interpreted as pure publicity but, in its subtleness, doesn't seem to be more than a collaboration between friends. What would a handbook on heartbreak be without a few words in from the current chairwoman for teen love?
Another (indirect) participant is, of course, Delta blues musician Robert Johnson. Mayer covers "Crossroad" and it is by far the closest he comes to sounding like he did on his previous album. The blues is back; distorted and fuzzy, but back. This is undoubtedly a track out of place in an album where most of Mayer's work on the guitar is diluted and made a background for lyrical content. For that reason, "Crossroads" sounds a lot like consolation - proof that what listeners heard in "Continuum" is still alive.
"Battle Studies" closes on the most universal points in its 10 tracks, "Friends, Lovers or Nothing". The chorus is pure clich? - we've all heard it before. But to a certain extent, that's exactly the point. The brass section comes in almost mockingly in between the lines "Friends, lovers or nothing.../ We can only ever really be one."
But then just because it's clich? doesn't mean it's ever that simple in real life. You can say heartbreak is the perfect breeding ground for clich?, but know there's a really good reason for how it so undoubtedly permeates our lives. And so, Mayer turns the song around in its final two minutes: "Anything other than 'yes' is 'no'/ Anything other than 'stay' is 'go'/ Anything less than I love you is lying."
And believing in only one of those three options (the second, to be precise) is exactly where heartbreak begins. The album closes with the completion of a cycle, and there's nothing left to do but start over from step one with "Heartbreak Warfare".
"Battle Studies" is not an easy ride to take; definitely not clich?-free, either, and it does leave one wanting more from Mayer musically. But it's not worth missing for any of those reasons. And like the challenging, fists up and ready first single "Who Says", it comes as no surprise that Mayer has no problem admitting to a certain regression. But who says you can't take a step back, or a step in a completely different direction?