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John Mayer Takes a Step Toward Maturity on Born and Raised

  • Christa Banister TheFish.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 24 May
John Mayer Takes a Step Toward Maturity on <i>Born and Raised</i>

Artist: John Mayer

Title: Born and Raised

Label: Columbia

For the past couple of years singer/songwriter John Mayer has been any publicist's worst nightmare.

From the TMI-laden interview with Rolling Stone where he mouthed off on everything from his rampant porn addiction to pot smoking to the bedroom skills of Hollywood's leading ladies, things only got worse when he made a particularly degrading statement about African American women.

In what's, perhaps, a tribute to his sheer multi-tasking prowess, Mayer's still managed to write a couple of decent songs, ("Heartbreak Warfare and "Half of My Heart" from 2009's Battle Studies) while dragging his name through the mud. But even as talented as the Grammy winner is, he's still beginning to be known more for living out the lyrics of his Room for Squares classic "My Stupid Mouth" than for his artistic contributions.

That said, it's really no surprise that Mayer's feeling reflective and hoping to redeem himself with Born and Raised, a soulful and stripped-down valentine to late ‘60s/early ‘70s musical era. Mostly written before Mayer was silenced because of the nasty granulomas next to his vocal chords, the album is chock full of laidback ruminations on how it all went very wrong.

Serving as the album's thesis, the opening track "Queen of California" effectively sets the languid tone as Mayer sings about "looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971."

Like a glass of cold iced tea on a hot summer day, the bulk of Mayer's new songs like the wistfully reflective "Something Like Olivia" and the breezy strains of "Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey" go down smooth. Strangely enough, however, Mayer's perpetual Zen-like state is also one of the album's biggest downfalls. From the ho-hum title track to the self-conscious "The Age of Worry," it's all a little too safe and serene, and sometimes, there's actually very little distinction from one track to the next.

Even worse is when it feels like Mayer's trying a little too hard to let us know he's changed—or at least changing. In "Love is a Verb," stale self-help platitudes practically make Mayer a perfect candidate to work a Tony Robbins hotline, while the countrified "Shadow Days," the alleged ode to his past love, actress Jennifer Aniston, come across as a little self-serving as he tries to convince the listener that he's just a "good man with a good heart" who "had a tough time, got a rough start" but "finally learned to let it go."

While many an artist has used songwriting as a medium for processing past, present and even future hurts and fears, the tracks from Born and Raised simply lack that universal, relatable quality to justify all the self indulgence.

Really, one can only hope the retro road-trip that Mayer and his audience is traveling on with Born and Raised leads somewhere a little more engaging and revelatory the next time around. Fingers crossed, anyway.

*This Review First Published 5/24/2012