John Mayer's Return to Pop is Perfectly Mediocre
- 2009 24 Nov
Title: Battle Studies
The pervasive "love is a battlefield" motif, not to mention the album's slow pace, gets old pretty fast on Battle Studies ...
Whether he's serving up swoony pop songs with just his acoustic guitar or playing the blues a la Stevie Ray Vaughan, there's a couple of consistent themes that run through most of John Mayer's music: love (lost, found and otherwise) and how he'd like to grow up someday, but isn't quite ready to yet.
Yes, the singer/songwriter best known for "Waiting for the World to Change," "Daughters" and "No Such Thing" has always been a character straight out of a Nick Hornby novel.
Much like the man-boys who've graced the pages of High Fidelity and About a Boy and been portrayed by perpetual bachelors John Cusack and Hugh Grant on the big screen, Mayer knows that choosing superficial relationships and avoiding responsibility isn't the most fulfilling way to live. Past tracks including "Home Life," "Something's Missing" and "The Heart of Life" all give credence to his belief in something more, something lasting.
However, given that Mayer is still a constant fixture in the supermarket tabloids, thanks to his loving and leaving of several high-profile Hollywood starlets, his yearning for lasting love (and poor-me accounts of how he's been duped in the past) just don't ring altogether true on Battle Studies.
As Pat Benatar sang so convincingly in the '80s, love is indeed a battlefield, but that battle metaphor that Mayer draws up here lacks any real gravitas and is redundant to boot, especially when he feels the need to work it in every song (see the downright silly "Assassins" and "Perfectly Lonely"—a perfectly vanilla track that attempts to warn future girlfriends that truth be told, he's really alright on his own).
Unfortunately, the overused battle motif is really only part of the problem with Battle Studies, though. Not only does the album suffer from some serious pacing issues (take the transition between the promising Seal-esque opening track "Heartbreak Warfare" and the slow, plodding "All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye," for example), but Mayer's desire to appeal to all his fans by interjecting a little blues here, a little acoustic pop there, inevitably dilutes the final product.
Really, it's okay to pick a genre and just go with it, rather than cram a little of everything down the listeners' throats, but Mayer doesn't seem to see it that way.
While a couple of songs including the hauntingly confessional "War of My Life" and the spunky "Half of My Heart," a sort-of duet with country cutie Taylor Swift, hint at the multiple GRAMMY winner's past promise, there's simply not enough spark on Battle Studies to warrant repeat listens—and that's coming from a longtime fan of Mayer's, not just a music critic.
**This review first published on November 24, 2009.