John Mayer is a musical enigma from the point of view that his live guitar playing, particularly when he hits his stride with classic blues songs, is incendiary, and has set him up as one of the slickest young virtuosos around today. Just listen to his previous release, Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles for an example of this. But somehow his solo albums still seem to come off as rather soft and insubstantial. This is a puzzle that persists when it comes to his new album Battle Studies.

Without even ever reading Mayer’s tweets about the record, it’s easy to see that it’s a concept album about battles of love – battles of the heart, battles in relationships, and battles within oneself. But instead of filling the album with raging musical styles or even just raging guitars to signify these battles, he’s perfected that art of uber-easy listening, adult contemporary rock.

“Heartbreak Warfare” opens the 11-track record, and while the song itself sounds nothing like warfare, Mayer manages to create an atmosphere that really makes the listener feel like they are in a bubble while “clouds of sulphur [are] in the air, bombs are falling everywhere.” It’s not likely to be a song that you remember from the record, but it does ease you in to Battle Studies nice and slowly.

The better ammunition of the record is unveiled on the third track, “Half Of My Heart,” which is a duet with Taylor Swift. Swift’s appearance here is not altogether necessary because she acts as a background vocalist, while singing one or two closing harmonies on her own. However, her voice does blend with Mayer’s in a lovely pop melody as they sing of feeling torn in a relationship and undecided about whether to be serious about it or not.

On the first single, “Who Says,” Mayer gives the middle finger in the most delightfully laid-back way to people (fans, the press, other halves) who judge his actions. It might even be too relaxed a song to be very successful on radio, but it is an endearing tune from the first listen.

Just to let us know he hasn’t completely given up on the blues here, Mayer throws in a cover version on Robert Johnson’s classic, “Crossroads.” The electric guitar playing a lot of people would like to hear isn’t completely there, but Mayer has given the song an electro twist so that it almost sounds as if it’s being played on a synth keyboard and not on a guitar at all.

“Perfectly Lonely” and “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing” are both great tracks, while “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye” and “Do You Know Me” perhaps drag on a bit much.

Mayer’s undoubtedly still very good at making the music he does and Battle Studies is near perfect in terms of technical quality – for its lyrical creativity alone it deserves its number one title. His record could just be a whole lot more interesting, that’s all.


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