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Battle Studies

John Mayer

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iTunes Editors’ Notes

As a much-respected young guitarist, John Mayer doesn’t rely on his guitar solos to get him through. To his credit, Mayer plays in service of the song. For his fourth studio album, 2009’s Battle Studies, Mayer settles into an adult-contemporary atmosphere where his youth is given a serious growing up. His sense of humor can he hunted down on the acoustic stoner shuffle “Who Says,” where he slyly jokes, “I don’t remember you looking any better / But then again, I don’t remember you.” But mostly, Mayer prefers the solemn tones of the U2 chime of “Heartbreak Warfare,” the Peter Gabriel ethereal moan of “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye,” the Don Henley pop of “Perfectly Lonely” and the Elton John melody of “Assassin.”  His duet with country sweetheart Taylor Swift on “Half of My Heart” portrays him as a guy keeping an eye on his next stepping stone. “Crossroads” brings him back to the blues in time to turn it into near techno. “Edge of Desire,” “Do You Know Me” and “Friends, Lovers or Nothing” end things with a tender soft rock touch.

Customer Reviews

Not Continuum, but still good

With "Battle Studies" Mayer tries to go back to the well that produced the phenomenal success of Continuum. Utilizing war as a metaphor for romantic relationships, Mayer creates a semi-concept album that meanders through several different genres, yet abandons much of the blues blood that Mayer has worked hard to convince us courses through his veins. For me the standout tracks are "Perfectly Lonely" and "Crossroads". "Half of my Heart" is also a standout, but Mayer misses a chance for something special by largely relegating Swift's vocals to the background. Certainly Mayer is back in his pop element. However, I actually got a little bit bored listening straight through the tracks. If nothing else, Mayer's career has been marked by careful calculation and I'm sure that Mayer will go from strength to strength. Still, Battle Studies pales in comparison to Continuum.

Perhaps a better album name: "Battle Studies" by @johncmayer

After the release of “Continuum” and his “Where The Light Is” Tour, I couldn’t help but get excited with John Mayer’s up and coming “Battle Studies,” but I found myself in mid-July uneasy with the progress of the album and by the time he released his single “Who Says,” a very anti-climactic and bland song to choose for a single, I was concerned with the possibility that this album was not going to be the album Continuum was or contain the carefully laced riffs or the uncanny improvisational skills the Trio so skillfully previously displayed.

And that’s fine. It’s important for artists to constantly redefine their “sound,” without that, we never would have gone from Heavier Things to Continuum. Mayer is simply evolving from Continuum to Battle Studies, he also noted that he was approaching this album from a different direction (towards Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young) and was experimenting with this album. All of this is very exciting direction to take and I’m more than willing to go along with it.

But what’s not fine is cutting a flat album that fails to really embrace any of the elements you aimed for. All of his influences all made albums that had dynamic elements about them, albums that evolve throughout the songs. This album would be fine if it didn’t keep the same feeling throughout the album. Mayer discusses the aspects of relationships and “heartbreak” throughout the entire album but seemingly fails to touch base on the most important aspect of a heart break: recovery. This album reflects the thoughts of one who fails to work past the sadness of a heart break and fails to see past the disaster and evolve into a better individual (this would be where he lays down all he has, solos, hooks, and passion). Mayer has an opportunity to turn off of heart break road on to a more positive, energetic road filled with recovery in “Battle Studies” instead he stays on heart break driving himself into further isolation.

Perhaps what contributed to the flat album was the lack of quality control, or quality for that matter, in the songs. Foul notes contaminate the album making it impossible to get immersed into the album without at some point getting jarred with a bum note or poor choice in guitar sound or riff. The first offender was the droning descending pitch of Mayer’s voice carefully backed up by effects in an effort to make it sound okay, but it only creates a very uncomfortable environment. Even for a depressed song, it’s a bit much. The album is also peppered with poor choice in notes that make it impossible to get into the album. A background riff in Mayer’s and Taylor’s “Half of My Heart” at the very end (3:18) undoes everything the song tried to accomplish, namely bring the album out of its early sense of depression. The “Perfectly Lonely” outro with the guitar overlay almost escapes without error but again, a seemingly lack of effort leaves us with a less-than-great song that is terribly repetitive, albeit mildly upbeat.

We are then taken to what I consider to be the core of the album: Assassins (which Mayer tweeted took him years to complete) and Crossroads (A poor funk cover of Clapton’s original). Assassins was nearly my favorite album until Mayer wails out a cacophonous note at the bridge (3:20) masking over every other great sound in the song like a marinade of tartar sauce ruins a filet. The album is then left at a literal and figurative “Crossroads” that could take the album towards the same mundane dirt road or take us to a highway where Mayer demonstrates his mastery of guitar and music. The dirt road it is. We are left with a very uncomfortable funk rendition of Crossroads that can only be likened to trying to dance to a funk song but find you’re contained in a foot by foot cube preventing you from really grooving.

The album finishes out with three potentially good songs but again, technicalities get in the way such as the lack of passion present in the majority of “Edge of Desire” a song seemingly calling for Mayer to yell out his last plea to this ever elusive lover of his, yet he fails to do nothing more than play his guitar and say, not proclaim, how he really feels. The album ends with a rather confused listener and while the piano tries to mark the end of an album and sum up his feelings, it simply makes one feel left empty handed.

And maybe this is what John Mayer wanted. Like he says, “who says” he can’t make an album like this? He’s more than welcome to make any type of album he desires. There are aspects of this album that are great and maybe he wants to stay on a road of individuality where he spends his evenings getting stone even though that may be socially taboo. And that’s okay. But what isn’t acceptable and something I don’t understand is why he didn’t proofread or doublecheck his math before he submitted it to the masses or why his tutors Palladino or Jordan didn’t stop and suggest he look at a note or two (or five). And I think that answer stems from a lack of effort on his part and maybe that’s what bothers me the most- his seemingly apathetic attitude towards this album. He was more interested in tweeting, blogging, and helping develop “cool” Flash Augmented Reality applications than fixing a song like Assassins that was so close to being near perfect. Mayer was so focused on the end product, he overlooked the necessary process of redoing, undoing, and starting over riffs, bridges, maybe even songs. Perhaps if he tweeted less about how he finished a song and focused more on finishing the song, this album would be the one we all know he can make. In fact, I think it’d be more appropriate this album be labeled “Battle Studies by @johncmayer.”

And in that case, congratulations @johncmayer you made a good album! But John Mayer, we await your up and coming album and we know what you’re capable of and we expect nothing less. And in the meantime, that’s enough, @johncmayer…

Mayer Strikes Again

I remember when John Mayer's career first began and I thought he was just another pop star (which he was at the time). But he is one of the few artists left in the business who gets increasingly better with age. Ever since he strayed away from his pop-icon-for-teenage-girls image and fully embraced his out of this world talent the music world has welcomed him with open arms, and for good reason. Continuum is one of my favorite albums of the last 5 years and I am certainly no teenage girl.

He breaks the mold yet again with Battle Studies and gives a seasoned and mature performance. As we've come to expect from the mature Mayer, there are echoes of BB King and Jimmy H. Not every song is perfect and it may not be quite as timeless as continuum (though there are some classics on here). But if you are a john Mayer fan and want some assurance on whether this is worth your money, rest assured: it is.

Good job JM

Biography

Born: October 16, 1977 in Bridgeport, CT

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

After making his introduction as a sensitive, acoustic-styled songwriter on 2001's Room for Squares, John Mayer steadily widened his approach over the subsequent years, encompassing everything from blues-rock to adult contemporary in the process. Arriving during the tail end of teen pop's heyday, he crafted pop music for a more discerning audience, spiking his songcraft with jazz chords and literate turns of phrase. The combination proved to be quite popular, as Room for Squares went triple platinum...
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