A Review of John Mayer’s album, “Battle Studies”
John Mayer’s fourth studio album, Battle Studies, seems to be an appropriate convergence of his personal and musical journeys since he rose to fame in 2003 with Room for Squares. For some, he has become a musical genius in the making, while for others he has become the subject of the next tabloid headline. Each side of his story makes an appearance on Battle Studies.
For better or worse, while Mayer played sold out concert venues and moved millions of records here in the U.S. alone, he has been a polarizing musical figure. At first, it was the women he made weak in the knees with songs like “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Daughters.” He then ascended to the upper echelon of young guitarists with his work in the John Mayer Trio, which was followed by his first blues-inspired studio album, Continuum. However, at the same time that he has been lauded with critical acclaim he has been bashed by some musical circles that view his material as girly, soft or weak when compared to the likes of some great artists of today.
On Battle Studies, he again proves his worth with the guitar when covering Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” (made famous by Cream); and he again gives his potential critics ammunition with songs like “All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye.” With Battle Studies, the polarization won’t go away, but for those who appreciate Mayer’s musical talents, there is plenty of substance to latch onto and add to his canon.
At the same time as Mayer’s musical ability continues to be recognized, so does his appearance in the limelight. It seems painfully obvious that John Mayer is a big fan of John Mayer. Much of our insight into his personal life has come from his celebrity relationships. He has been linked to Jennifer Love Hewitt, Heidi Klum, Jessica Simpson, Minka Kelly and Jennifer Aniston, among others.
Based on his high-profile hookups, there has been speculation on his songwriting and connections to these women. Battle Studies certainly allows for such speculation, especially with the proximity of the album’s release and his breakup with Jennifer Aniston. To a certain extent, it is as if Mayer wants us to feel sorry for him and his roller coaster ride with famous women. Many people, including myself, have grown tired of how the now predictable pattern of his personal habits may unfold in the public eye. And it is a shame that when we think of his music, we think about who he is going to be seen out with next.
Even with his personal life taken into account, I would say that this latest studio album does nothing to hurt his legacy as a musician. It isn’t as transcendent as Continuum or as heartbreaking as Inside Wants Out (an all acoustic pre Room for Squares collection), but it is still John Mayer. He doesn’t provide any face-melting solos like those on “Gravity” or “Bold as Love,” however anyone who knows his music knows that experiencing Battle Studies means going to a concert of his and seeing him turn a 2:29 studio version of “Crossroads” into a 15-20 minute display of excellence and example of how to elicit an emotional reaction through guitar playing.
In my opinion, Mayer is this generation’s greatest guitar player, and at the end of his career should be considered in the top 15, if not top 10 of all those who once picked up a guitar. With this being said, as well as pointing out how well his voice fits with the melodies he writes, what will always have me listening to anything Mayer releases is the fact that his lyrics will always be poignant and always have me thinking of a time in my life when I felt the exact same, wondering how he made the experience so raw in his gifted songwriting.
On Battle Studies’ first single, “Who Says,” he sings, “Who says I can’t get stoned/ Call up the girl that I used to know/ Fake love for an hour or so/ Who says I can’t get stoned.” On the surface it would seem to be just a simple stoner anthem, but hearing a stanza like that shows how deep it really is.
On my favorite track of the album, “Edge of Desire,” he sings, “Don’t say a word, just come over and lie here with me/ ’Cause I’m just about to set fire to everything I see/ I want you so bad I’ll go back on the things I believe/ There I just said it, I’m scared you’ll forget about me.’
While Battle Studies deals almost exclusively with lyrics about the opposite sex, Mayer has proven that he isn’t limited to writing about women. This album comes on the heels of Continuum, easily his best work and possibly one of the best albums of the last decade. So when people ask me, “Hey what do you think of the new John Mayer album?” I say, “Well, it isn’t Continuum, but it is John Mayer,” and those who are conscious of its context understand what it means: with this album, John Mayer proves again that he is able to harness musical talents that are exceeded by few and desired by all.