Sunday, November 22, 2009

John Mayer - Battle Studies

By this point in time John Mayer is most certainly ubiquitous on the pop music landscape. His rise to fame, fortune and tabloid celebrity is well-documented. Most recently, his music hasn't been the most interesting thing about him. He returned to the studio with his blues trio bandmates (Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan) to record his newest album Battle Studies, which was released on 11/17. Firstly, you'll notice the hideous cover art. I hope and pray this picture is tongue-in-cheek, because it's truly awful. The title of the album would lead you to believe this is a concept album about death, war, and bloodshed as told from the perspective of a veteran on his deathbed (wait a second, that is almost an awesome idea for an album....), but it's not.

His "battles" are in the arena of love and loss, and clearly he's been studying them like there's going to be a final exam at the end of the semester. Mr. Mayer is clearly intimately familiar with said battles, when he's not banging everything that walks past him that's a size 6 and under. By all accounts Mr. Mayer is a shrewd guy and knows the position in which his success has placed him. He also has undeniable talent when it comes to songwriting, melody, and bluesy guitar noodling. In my mind, there are three standout tracks on this pretty good album. They are: "Half of My Heart" (with Taylor Swift providing minor backing vocals), "Who Says" (the song that basically says 'fuck you' to critics and the establishment in a pretty flippant way), and "Assassin" (which has a pretty cool kalimba intro, that talks about stealing a girl's heart only to find out the girl had the same agenda). These songs are all well and good, but I'm a blues fan. The fact that Mr. Mayer has put two blues covers on his last two studio albums is interesting.

On Continuum he ripped through "Bold As Love" (made famous by Jimi Hendrix) and on Battle Studies he tries his hand at one of the most famous blues songs ever. "Cross Road Blues" was originally recorded by the great Robert Jonhson in 1937 and made famous when Cream (with Eric Clapton) recorded it as "Crossroads" in 1969. I don't know what Mr Mayer's goal is with recording these blues tunes, but I imagine he's trying to have it both ways. He's trying to maintain the aura of singer-songwriter with the ladies so that his music will still practically makes their clothes fall off, while keeping a toe in the waters of Cooldom with his limited male audience. So that not all guys will say, "my girlfriend likes him, but he's a douchebag," but instead they'll say, "my girlfriend likes him, and I only like him when he's in Blues-Rock mode." It's basically his way of keeping some of his masculinity, which is made further ironic for the fact he's a white guy from Connecticut playing a song written by an African-American from Mississippi. The hammond organ is a nice touch to update the song in a way, and I'm sure if he ever plays it live could easily go on for 10+ minutes.


Anonymous said...

I have been awaiting Them Crooked Vultures' album for several months and have yet to hear it, so I am glad to hear it lived up.

Also, John Mayer's new album cover is totally ridiculous. He looks like one of these guys.

john brantley said...

I really enjoyed Battle Studies, and Half of My Heart and Perfectly Lonely are stellar tracks. This is some of John's best work yet!

Daphne said...

What song is he playing on that picture and where can I find it?