Review Summary: Despite some obvious flaws, a well-done record that showcases Mayer's old-school country influences.
John Mayer is kind of the guy that people want to hate. While he has such a soulful and smooth voice that's easy on the ears and some excellent music in his discography, his off-stage life tells another story. He even wrote a song about it, entitled "My Stupid Mouth". But those who can look past his obviously prickliness know that this guy has mad talent, and he never makes the same album twice, the latter of which I've always respected. Even if an album of his disappoints (I'm looking at you, Battle Studies
), you've gotta throw him a bone for the effort. And since his previous record Born & Raised
set the bar soaringly high, with its take on a mellower and more Americana-influenced sound, it's easy to put yourself in the "it's obviously going to suck in comparison to that last album" mindset with his latest album, Paradise Valley
Released after a recent surgical procedure to remove nodules on his vocal cords (which subsequently delayed his tour), Paradise Valley
is more or less a continuation of the previous sound, but with a bit more of an upbeat feel to it. This album has some of Mayer's catchiest tracks yet, which do bring old-school Country artists like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers to mind, and is also even a tad experimental t times, with some nice ballads and a couple guest vocal spots. Saying not to expect something the caliber of Mayer's previous album is an understatement, and it's also worth noting that the rather mellow lead single, "Paper Doll", is not indicative of the album's sound.
There's quite a few highlights here. "Wildfire" opens the album at a pace that lives up to the track's title; it's catchy and bouncy, you could imagine it fitting in nicely at a saloon on a Friday night. I've also grown to like "I Will Be Found", which is a beautiful ballad, and maybe my favourite Mayer ballad yet. It's essentially this album's "A Face to Call Home", with a piano and more reflective lyrics. Sure the lyrics do get a little carried away with the cheesy metaphors ("I'm a little lost at sea/I'm a little birdie in a big old tree"
), but Mayer's vocal work and the beauty of the music is enough to help you overlook it. Lead single "Paper Doll" is also a highlight and was written in response to Taylor Swift's "Dear John", where he seems to be telling her, "Look, you know what you're getting into with me, why did you expect any different?". On it, he compares the amount of boyfriends she's gone through to a woman who constantly changes clothes, and at one point sings, "You're like 22 girls in one/And none of them know what they're running from/Was it just too far to fall/For a little paper doll?
. But he also shares the spotlight with his current girlfriend, Katy Perry on "Who You Love", which has a very laid-back feel and has nice lyrics about how important it is to love who you love for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Perry's vocal spot fits very well and the two have beautiful chemistry together. The Dolly Parton-esque "You're No One Until Someone Lets You Down" is very catchy as well, and reminds you of some of Parton's finer works; the album's closer "On the Way Home" draws the album to a satisfying close, with lyrics about how summer comes to an end but so does everything, and we all have to move on at some point. It's a sweet and catchy track that almost feels as grand as the finish to a really great musical.
Then there are spots where the album doesn't work, and the example that sticks out is the second
track on the album called "Wildfire" (couldn't he have at least titled it "Wildfire Part 2"?!), which suddenly kick-shifts the album into R&B for a minute and twesnty seconds. Mayer provides backup vocals for Frank Ocean's lead vocals (which aren't that impressive to begin with). The lyrics are angsty and whiny, but the proverbial cherry on top is that it's only 1:20 long, rendering it completely pointless. I'm thinking it's time to stop pimping out Frank Ocean. "Badge and Gun" and "Waitin' on the Day" do drag the album down when it's at its most upbeat. They aren't particularly bad songs, but they could have been left off the album with little to no consequence. The sequencing of tracks could be the better to;, at times the album feels bipolar with one track being catchy and upbeat, the next being slower and mellower. It does sort of take away from the experience, where Born & Raised
was perfectly sequenced all the way through.
Overall, despite the flaws, Mayer delivers yet another record that showcases his passion and refusal to let himself become another guitarist/vocalist who writes generic pop music. Even when this album doesn't work, it's still better than the average and ordinary pop/rock artist nowadays. He also manages to avoid the trap of trying to recapture the magic of his previous record, and just letting this album stand on its own. That should be respected in some way, right? He's John Mayer and he doesn't try to pander, he makes his own music and writes from the heart, and that's all that should matter.