Review Summary: An excellent pop album that serves as a melting pot of Mayer’s previous work.
How does one follow up an album like Continuum
? I know few people agree that it's one of the best pop albums of the decade, but Continuum
was an extremely pleasant surprise. With it, Mayer perfectly blended his masterful pop songwriting with the strong blues influence of his inspirations. The fact that he admitted to “stealing” from others (“Eric Clapton knows I steal from him and is still fine with it”) meant the album was a conscious effort to emulate greatness, and the results were amazing.
So really, the only place to go from a career high is down. That still means that Battle Studies
can be great, however, and it is. Mayer’s fourth is a melting pot of all his previous work, returning to the acoustic pop of his first two albums while retaining the style of Continuum
on about most of the tracks.
Push play, and you’ll probably be fooled into thinking it could be an underwhelming record. “Heartbreak Warfare” is a strong opener, but it doesn’t quite match either “Clarity” or “Waiting on the World to Change”. “All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye” starts out good, only to scream “lack of ideas” when the chorus is repeated well beyond the point of annoyance. It's not until "Half of My Heart" comes in that the album really takes off. Possessing a slight country tone, it's a perfect blend of Mayer's past work into an excellent pop song, and guest vocals from Taylor Swift confirm he's still interested in working with artists outside his immediate genre territory.
From there, Battle Studies
makes its case for one of the year’s best pop albums (or even albums in general). The entire first half (save for the aforementioned “All We Ever Do…”) combines the catchy hooks and Mayer’s wonderful voice with a slight blues tone via – you guessed it - his wonderful guitar parts, and at least three of them are among his best work. “Who Says” recalls the completely stripped nature of “Daughters” – complete with similar single treatment - and the (somewhat surprising) cover of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” feels almost as natural as his rendition of “Bold as Love”. While the album is somewhat heavy in front, the remaining set of songs round out an already fine package.
Ultimately, Battle Studies
is quite unlikely to change your opinion of John Mayer. Fans will love it, detractors will hate it, some will call it unimpressive, and Eric Clapton worshippers will likely (somewhat ignorantly) cry “ripoff” once again. Though not as cohesive or consistent(ly amazing) as Continuum
, it’s another entry in a pretty interesting discography. Mayer has found a formula that works, and his track record is any indication, we can expect plenty of other great things to come from him. For now, Battle Studies
serves as proof he’s not content to do the same thing twice.