Review Summary: Paradise Valley, while having its strong points, is altogether very average as an album, and in response to its final lyrics, “A little bit of heaven never hurt no one,” he was right, and I’m a little hurt.
To start, being a John Mayer fan, and Having seen Mayer this summer on his Born & Raised tour, I was reminded of the incredible talent that the man has to offer when he’s got his 6-string in his hands. Though his voice is still slowly recovering from throat Granuloma, he gave his very best on the B&R tour, showing off some pretty spectacular renovations he made to some of the live editions of his songs made the anticipation for his new music pretty grand. And the songs that were released early – Grateful Dead-reminiscent Taylor Swift basher “Paper Doll” and the upbeat Western summer anthem “Wildfire” which opens the album – didn’t disappoint whatsoever at showing Mayer branching out in terms of genre, while still holding true to what he does best. The two songs demonstrate his guitar work as well as his clever and thoughtful lyricism, and reign as two of the stronger songs on the album.
Still, when I finally got around to listening all the way through Paradise Valley, I was baffled. The fan in me so badly wants to give this album a 5 and encourage everyone to buy it and support the artist that influences me so much, but on the other hand … this is not John Mayer at his best. To be clear: my disappointment has nothing to do with his newfound love for Country and Western music. I adored Born & Raised, and I think his country-rich songs on PV are some of the album’s strongest. The dynamic acoustic number, “Dear Marie” shines as Mayer reaches out to a high school sweetheart; the song slowly builds into an ending similar to something you'd expect from folk kings Mumford & Sons. Album closer, “On the Way Home” is a strong folksy tune with catchy acoustic guitar leads and Mayer’s indelible falsetto, all the while boasting some of the stronger lyrics on the album. My personal favorite, “You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down,” could have easily been found on a Willie Nelson greatest hits album; the vocal melodies are skillfully crafted to get stuck in your head, along with the simplistic and memorable songwriting of 20th Century country music in the likes of Nelson, or even Patsy Cline.
But what makes Paradise Valley ultimately a disappointment is its inconsistency. Almost every song is a different genre, with a different theme. It doesn’t move along as smooth as his older albums did - nor is it a collection of “hits”. As a matter of fact, it could even be seen as an antithesis to a greatest hits record – almost as if Mayer had trashed the actual album and instead put out all the B-sides as the back-up plan. While after its first listen, “Who You Love” sounds enchanting with the surprising soulful guest vocals from Katy Perry, it becomes too repetitive and falls short of the potential it had. JJ Cale cover “Call Me The Breeze” has an awkward and abrupt ending that fails to let the song make the guitar soloing noteworthy or the Tribute to the recently-deceased guitar legend honorable. Additionally, Frank Ocean hogs an entire track on 100% R&B interlude “Wildfire”, which results in perhaps the strangest and most uncomfortable moment of the album.
Both with a strong start, and a strong finish, the bulk of Paradise Valley unfortunately makes for an inconsistent and, at times, uncomfortable listen. Then again, there are a number of strong tracks that will easily be implemented into Mayer’s live catalogue. But the album as a whole cannot possibly be considered equal to Room for Squares or Born & Raised, and it is on a completely different universe than Continuum – which will probably always be Mayer’s Magnum Opus. Paradise Valley, while having its strong points, is altogether very average as an album, and in response to its final lyrics, “A little bit of heaven never hurt no one,” he was right, and I’m a little hurt.
You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down
On The Way Home