Born and Raised by John Mayer
Many people refuse to accept John Mayer as a serious artist. These people might describe him as an idolized, pre-teen heartthrob making millions off simple pop tunes. Don’t forget his flings with superstars Taylor Swift, Jennifer Anniston and Jessica Simpson, or that in a Playboy interview he did not help his case by referring to Simpson as “sexual napalm” in addition to dropping the “N” word. Mayer seems to be meandering through life without concern for anything but making headlines.
However, in the first verse of his new album’s opening track, Mayer sings, “Goodbye sorrow and goodbye shame.”
John Mayer’s Born and Raised offers listeners one of the most intimate and rewarding albums of the year thus far. Throughout the album Mayer cries out for a second chance, claiming that his “shadow days” are over. He is gone with the old, poppy, falsetto voice and bubblegum lyrics and is in with full-bodied Bob Dylan and Neil Young inspired laments.
On Born and Raised Mayer employs the talents of legendary pianist Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers, Black Crowes, Eric Clapton), as well as Graham Nash and David Crosby, to achieve the soulful singer-songwriter sound that reached its golden age in the 1970s. The album’s cover even seems to allude to Neil Young’s classic album Harvest. In fact, with the somber mood set by the jangly guitar playing and homely harmonica of the album’s title track, I almost expected to hear Young’s voice when the first verse began (perhaps not coincidentally, Young’s name is mentioned within the first minute of the opening song). Even though Young seems to have had a huge influence on Mayer’s songwriting, he also reveals elements of the lyrical virtuosity of Bob Dylan.
“Walt Grace’s Submarine Test January 1967” seems to be Mayer’s attempt at telling a Dylanesque story. Only a man influenced by Dylan would dare to write a song featuring the efforts of a young man who takes a “homemade, fan-blade, one-man submarine ride.” While Mayer may not be the Bob Dylan of our generation, his efforts on this song alone show that he has matured far beyond songs like “Your Body Is A Wonderland.”
Not every track seems to take its influences from the masterful wordsmiths of the past. The track “Something Like Olivia” emanates with poppy, feel-good, toe tapping tunes that could fill the coldest of souls with warm, fuzzy feelings. Yet while the music oozes happy thoughts, the lyrics tell another story. Mayer seems to be venting his frustration that a girl named Olivia is taken. He claims he’s “not trying to steal love away from no one man,” but later Mayer reveals that if Olivia were at his door he’d have to let her in. You can be the judge on that one.
On “Speak For Me” Mayer reveals an anti pop-culture side. He claims “they’re celebrating broken things, I don’t want a world of broken things.” Lines like this seem to allude to the media spotlight on his and other celebrities’ breakups, mental breakdowns, and other controversies.
All signs on this album show that the short-haired, beardless, womanizing Mayer of the past is gone—he’s been replaced with a thirty-something, single man who has a lot to say about the world around him. Will this album be enough to push Mayer from pop star to legend? Probably not, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. We will need to wait to see if Mayer can continue down the path he has paved with Born and Raised. If he can stay true to it, there will definitely be bigger and better things to come from this redeemed man.
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Stars: 4.5 out of 5