John Mayer
Battle Studies


3.5
great

Review

by Alex Silveri EMERITUS
November 17th, 2009 | 62 replies | 24,983 views


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: or, John Mayer’s Eleven Reflections On The Theme Of Love, Performed In The Key Of Starry Eye'd Hunkness.

Let’s not be coy here: Battle Studies is about as scholastically violent as a bunny in a pile of hay. You see, for John Mayer, blues pop singer extraordinaire, Battle Studies is nothing less than an exercise in love and heartbreak; heartbreak warfare in fact, as the album’s leading song would make clear. Not that this is any real surprise, given that Mayer has been nothing if not a keen surveyor and participant in the relationship game, both as a songwriter and public personality. Of course, for self declared Hard Men, Mayer is, and always will be, a bit of a pussy. And there’s more than a grain of truth in that. But they’ve been changes too, both subtle and profound – just take a look at that album cover: ‘Hey, I’m John Mayer, and I’m a hunk’. Well, hey hey, back up, what ever happened to the shy looking boy who posed so awkwardly in front of his guitar (which he happened to rule at?). I’ll tell you. Try! happened. Continuum happened. Jennifer Aniston happened. Twitter happened. Long story short, John Mayer became, well, cool.

Hence the title: Battle Studies. The secret alternate title, which everyone knows but refuses to admit to, is far longer: John Mayer’s Eleven Reflections On The Theme Of Love, Performed In The Key Of Whatever. But it isn’t named that. Because John Mayer is cool, and Battle Studies is the coolest (read: easiest, breeziest, chill) collection of Mayer’s songs yet, at least measured by the standards of pop consciousness. This isn’t to mistake it for his best though – no, that title goes to Continuum, which remains the closest thing to a perfect blues-pop record ever written. Battle Studies, by comparison is relaxed and laid back, it’s feet in the air and stripped of extravagance with Mayer simply doing his thang with ease and pazazz. It’s a change made clear from the record’s opening triad, all three of which are almost entirely empty of Mayer’s trademark guitarwork, replaced instead by instances of watery electronic drops, lightly strummed open chords and simple one-two beats over Mayer’s distinctive soulful croon.

While they border on the edge of tame territory, it’s not until the opening beats of lead single “Who Says”, does Battle Studies begin to shake off the dust of Mayer’s three year full-length absence. See, “Who Says”, is, in some ways the quintessential Mayer track, with it’s delicate finger plucked acoustic twangs, catchy earthy beats and just-hip-enough-to-be-cool-without-overdoing-it theme’s and references: ‘Who says I can’t get stoned?’, or ‘It’s been a long night in New York City’ – all of it straddling a patchwork of threads which Mayer has been weaving for a long time now; between subtlety and flashiness, between subdued adult contemporary and hip cool guy, and perhaps most importantly for this album, between lover and lovee. (‘I got a hammer, and a heart of glass’ sings the Jekyll and Hyde balancer on “War Of My Life”). Goldilocks, incarnated here by Taylor Swift on “Half Of My Life”, would be impressed. That said, while ‘just right’ is no substitute for capital-A Awesome, Battle Studies nevertheless hits the breezy heights it sets itself with an ease that could only be pulled off by an incredibly relaxed John Mayer.

Speaking of which, among those highs lie the fantastic “Assassin”, Mayer’s sharpest depiction of the Lover's Duel yet -‘I’m an assassin and I had a job to do/ Little did I know that girl was an assassin too’ – rounded off with dose of soul infused wooahhooohs and a sky-blue guitar solo to wrap it up. Mayer’s cover of the blues standard “Crossroads” also finds him playing the balancing game at its most intricate, with his take being neither edgy enough to capture the grit of the delta blues original, nor smooth enough to strike a flame into the pop charts, but nevertheless finding its own voice among Mayer’s funk addled soul as one of the highlights of Battle Studies. Not everything lives up to this (All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye, Perfectly Lonely), but all things considered, I suspect these minor faults aren’t really all that important in the long run.

See, Mayer’s success has never exactly been premised purely on his songwriting ability, but rather his knack for dealing with universal themes in thoroughly down to earth ways, and without the layering of pop cheese that so many of his contemporaries indulge in. Anyone who has ever dabbled in the arts of the heart, say, would have something to experience in the semi-balladry of “Friends, Lovers or Nothing", where Mayer croons in almost-desperation: 'Friends, lovers or nothing, they’ll never be an in between, so give it up'. And again for the slow burning, starry melodies of “Edge Of Desire”: ‘I want you so bad, I’ll go back on the things I believe/ There, I just said it / I’m scared you’ll forget about me’. Well dear Mayer, if you keep this up, you just might stride into the pantheon of songwriting greats with nothing to fear.

3.4/5



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user ratings (323)
Chart.
3.3
great
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Tom Gellatly (4)
    Mayer's most laid-back and easygoing album yet. It doesn't quite reach the heights of his ...

    David James Young (4)
    At ease, soldier....

    zack cutts (4)
    Battle Studies seems to be an album that calls for a fully devoted relationship. Songs lik...

    kingmchris (3)
    Heavier things have been accomplished than a decent follow up to Continuum, sadly Mayer dr...

  • Steven McMahan (4)
    An excellent pop album that serves as a melting pot of Mayer’s previous work....


Comments:Add a Comment 
StreetlightRock
Emeritus
November 17th 2009



3762 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Last review till 2010. Enjoy.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

Knott-
Emeritus
November 17th 2009



10194 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

sweeeeeeet

think i need this

StrizzMatik
November 17th 2009



3176 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

It's good but Continuum and Try! utterly destroy this

Digging: United Nations - The Next Four Years

AtavanHalen
November 17th 2009



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Review is packed full of win

timbo8
November 17th 2009



618 Comments


The cover alone makes me weary of this, but he's been on a roll lately so I'll check this out.

Kiran
Emeritus
November 17th 2009



6000 Comments


terrific review! continuum was great and i do want this but i'm hesitant over getting disappointed.

Digging: Spoon - They Want My Soul

ratedrsuperstar
November 17th 2009



186 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

excellent review.the first para>this album

PuddlesPuddles
November 17th 2009



4767 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

yup yup yup

nice one alex

mvdu
November 17th 2009



599 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Excellent review. This is soft rock that is enjoyable instead of dull due to John's ability with the guitar. Only complaint is the lyrics, which are a little too sullen over a whole CD.

ninjuice
November 17th 2009



6761 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I guess mine being shorter than yours means my reviews are becoming concise?
Not your best but pretty great, a bit like the album.

El_Goodo
November 17th 2009



1008 Comments


I was really looking forward to this album after Continuum but even from the first single "Who Says" it sounded like a step backwards. This album sounds more like the work off of Heavier Things and for me the album loses steam after track 5.

Most of the songs are slow ballads but they don't come close to the ballads like Dreaming With A Broken Heart and Slow Dancing in A Burning Room, those songs sounded more original and unique where as a lot of these songs sound like anyone could have sung them.

That said Half Of My Heart and Perfectly Lonely have been in my head since I've heard them.

The cover of Crossroads is kinda lame too, the guitar sounds pretty cool but as anyone who's ever heard the original can attest this song is not meant to be a breezy chill-out song he's selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads man! Come on!

mvdu
November 17th 2009



599 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm the opposite of some here - like this more than Continuum.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2009



15727 Comments


couple minor gramma quibbles here and here but as usual, a fantastic review, love reading your stuff

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

klap
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2009



10258 Comments


hate john mayer, love alex silveri, not sure what to do here

Digging: The Bilinda Butchers - Heaven

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2009



14991 Comments


well alex silveri didnt make this seem like one of his best so if u didnt like stuff like continuum or whatever then dont get this

klap
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2009



10258 Comments


thanks for walking me through that alex

jagride
November 17th 2009



2258 Comments


Music for cappucino sipping scarf wearers with horn rimmed glasses

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2009



14991 Comments


"thanks for walking me through that alex"


whats with this reply

MaskAtTheMasquerade
November 17th 2009



2887 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

J May is such a hunk

Douglas
November 17th 2009



9061 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

record’s opening triad, all thre

Sick review otherwise.



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