John Mayer: Battle Studies
Twenty-somethings all over are humming along and nodding their heads. It's almost impossible not to. Guitarist John Mayer's Battle Studies has come out and they've found someone who understands their generation's thought process.
This new generation thinks differently than those past. With globalization has come a greater range of options, as well as a greater sense of freedom to pursue those options. Twenty-somethings in the new millennium have taken to the phrase "follow your heart," and many have done often done just that. That has led to greater risk-taking, and so sometimes projects fall flat on their faces. But hey, it's worth it, right? It's better to try something and fail than to regret never trying it. Sure, that's the spirit, but it's never as happy-go-lucky as all that. There are complicated feelings to be accounted for.
Somehow, Mayer has internalized all these feelings and found a way to express them through his music, in the process becoming a loudspeaker for a generation. That's pretty heavy praise for a bubble gum pop star on a jazz website. But that's how good Battle Studies is; that's just how much Mayer's music hits home.
And speaking of the music, it's quite good, if a bit staid, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. Mayer has always surprised on the bright side with his music. Let's not forget, this is a guy who's been invited to collaborate with pianist Herbie Hancock and guitarists John Scofield, Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Battle Studies is softer than Continuum (Aware Records, 2006) and is more on the level of Room for Squares (Sony, 2001). That's to say, a bit atmospheric while staying grounded in rock. And Mayer's vocals are as fine as everpolished, youthful and powerful.
"Heartbreak Warfare," the opener, is a pithy commentary on breakups. "It's complicated" has become a much-used expression, and Mayer perfectly captures the spirit. "Dream of ways to make you understand my pain...It's heartbreak warfare, once you want it to begin no one really ever wins." Forget the misplaced war metaphors, Mayer is onto something here. It's a powerful realization that making others feel bad is almost never a cure for one's own ills.
"Who Says" is another highlight. The no-frills acoustic guitar riff is reminiscent of Cat Stevens, and once again the lyrics hit home. "Who says I can't be free from all of the things that I used to be. Rewrite my history, who says I can't be free." A deceptively simple excerpt from a deceptively simple song, but one that possesses more and more meaning with each listen; the best composers are capable of writing something so effortless it sounds like it's been buzzing around for years. The same goes for lyricists. Mayer manages to be both here.
Mayer switches gears for "Perfectly Lonely," looking at the same down-in-the- dumps sentiments of "Heartbreak Warfare" from a glass-half-full perspective. "Nothing to do, nowhere to be, a simple little kind of free. Nothing to do, no one but me, and that's all I need, I'm perfectly lonely." These profound lyrics speak for themselves.
The only significant disappointment on the album is a half-assed reading of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," which is here way too soft to be referred to as a blues. But aside from this misstep, Battle Studies is a masterpiece, solid musically and inspiring lyrically. The comparisons of Mayer to Clapton are becoming more and more valid; detractors say each could do more, but really each is doing more than enough already. Here's hoping Mayer continues along the same career path as Clapton, continuing to be relevant for many years to come.
Tracks: Heartbreak Warfare; All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye; Half Of My Heart; Who Says; Perfectly Lonely; Assassin; Crossroads; War Of My Life; Edge Of Desire; Do You Know Me; Friends, Lovers Or Nothing.
Personnel: John Mayer: guitar, vocals; Steve Jordan: drums; Pino Palladino: bass; Ian McLagan: keyboards; Jamie Muhoberac: keyboards; Robbie McIntosh: guitar; Waddy Wachtel: acoustic guitar; Bob Reynolds: saxophone; Bryan Lipps: trumpet.