Review Summary: At ease, soldier.
John Mayer set out on a quest when he ended his last album, 2006’s Continuum
. The mission? “I’m gonna find another you.” Whomever he was talking to, Mayer got a lot more than he bargained for when he went off in search of another. Along the way, he found the media taking more interest in him than ever before – no thanks to his romantic flings with a few A-listers. He found a way to express himself in 140 characters or less, with @johncmayer becoming one of the most followed Twitter accounts in existence. He found the life and death of the party, he found love, he found peace, he found fame, he found infamy and the results of his findings turned into what we have now – Battle Studies
At the top of the disc art for Battle Studies
are three circles. On the left is a musical note, on the right is a broken heart shape, and in the middle is a microphone, connecting itself to both. Mayer is attempting to reclaim the image of John Mayer the musician as opposed to John Mayer the star, but in order to return to that, he’s got a couple of things to say that he needs to get off his ripped chest. Battle Studies
is an elaborate documentation of the view of life from the top of the world, with no-one else to enjoy it with and anyone who might have gotten close is probably written about.
Lyrically, Mayer is engrossed with his interpersonal struggles. Even he doesn’t know where he’s headed: On the track "Half of My Heart", the thirty-two-year-old confesses “Half of my heart is a shotgun wedding to a bride with a paper ring/And half of my heart is the part of a man who’s never truly loved anything”. Mayer is still as quizzical and pensive as ever, but he has never been more immersed in the spotlight whilst doing so. Perhaps it’s for this reason that his depiction of “love or lack thereof” that began with 2001’s Room for Squares
is more vivid and emphatic than ever. Opener "Heartbreak Warfare" demonstrates through clever metaphor the pains of a relationship’s demise (“Clouds of sulphur in the air/Bombs are falling everywhere”) – an analogy that continues into the mid-tempo "War of My Life" (“Got no choice but to fight ‘til it’s done”). There’s enough here to support the claim that this is Mayer’s most downbeat record, though perhaps “mellow” would be a better descriptive term. Or even meditative, given the situations they reflect upon. Whatever energy the record lacks, it makes up for in its enigmatic, provoking depth.
For any that doubted Mayer would return in strength following his celebrity schmoozing, take your pick from Battle Studies
. As a singer, he remains soulful and incredibly easy on the ears. His thickly layered self-harmonising adding warmth and placidity. Album highlight "Assassin" is more or less the perfect example of Mayer’s distinctive rasp at its finest. He melds poignant low and high harmonies as well as a wailing “woah-oh-oh” mixed into the background that serves as a dog whistle for pop aficionados.
On the guitar, he hasn’t forgotten how to nail a lick or solo down by any stretch: a cover of Robert Johnson’s "Crossroads" forces forward a wall of guitar backed only by drummer Steve Jordan, with impressive results. The final number, "Friends, Lovers or Nothing" also sees Mayer pay his usual Slowhand/Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute with some piercing solos. It’s honestly like the guy never left.
Ranking Battle Studies
amongst the previous works of Mayer is somewhat difficult. In terms of overall quality, it falls just behind Continuum
(and there is no
shame in coming second to Continuum), close to Room for Squares
and a wide berth from 2003’s Heavier Things
. In terms of the man creating it, however, he couldn’t be more different from the three Johns that preceded him. Perhaps things will never be the same again. Whatever comes next, rest assured that @johncmayer isn’t about to let himself be swallowed up by the digital celebrity age entirely just yet.