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John Mayer - Battle Studies

John Mayer, Battle Studies

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

JOHN Mayer is something of a one-man phenomenon in America where he’s a prolific singer-songwriter, gossip column regular, designer, journalist and clothing expert.

But while he has yet to make as big a splash in the UK, it seems only a matter of time if the advance buzz surrounding his new album, Battle Studies, is anything to go by. But is the hype justified.

Mayer’s brooding style of rock is certainly primed for success, as he combines the chart friendly appeal of acts such as Maroon 5, Jackson Browne, Lenny Kravitz and even David Gray with the guitar tendencies of people like Eric Clapton (his playing has seen him dubbed in some quarters as “Little Slowhand”).

And everyone likes a heartfelt listen, particularly if the artist is laying his recent heartbreak bare. Whether the lyrics were inspired by his relationships with high profile fellow celebs such as Jessica Simpson or Jennifer Aniston remains to be clarified, but there’s angst, torment and anguish galore to be found throughout Mayer’s LP.

Album opener Heartbreak Warfare, for instance, sets a swirling electronic backdrop over painful lyrics that are delivered either huskily or in a pained falsetto. The mix is an effective one, however, especially when delivering the epic chorus. It’s a good starting point.

All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye, meanwhile, finds the singer baring his soul in stripped back form, with an acoustic guitar and melancholy piano serving as bedding for lines like “why do you wanna break my heart again”. But the emotion feels genuine and it’s a strong break-up anthem in waiting.

The pace is picked up on the country-tinged ballad Half Of My Heart, which showcases some of Mayer’s guitar skills with a nicely delivered duet with Taylor Swift, while he comes over all Jack Johnson for the campfire classic Who Says, a defiant ode to doing what you want (including getting stoned at home). Both are among the best on the album.

Admittedly, songs such as Perfectly Lonely and War of My Life strain the point and are a little generic for US soft rock and feel like fillers. But Mayer doesn’t drop his standards too often and songs like Assassin resonate strongly, while Do You Know Me display a husky tenderness and inquisitiveness that’s very affecting.

His cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, meanwhile, offers some fun in a ZZ Top kind of fashion, whilst delivering some more guitar moments to savour.

Mayer is therefore a UK success story in waiting whose latest album is genuinely worthy of discovery.

Download picks: Heartbreak Warfare, Half Of My Heart, Who Says, Assassin, Crossroads, Do You Know Me

Track listing:

  1. Heartbreak Warfare
  2. All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye
  3. Half Of My Heart – John Mayer & Taylor Swift
  4. Who Says
  5. Perfectly Lonely
  6. Assassin
  7. Crossroads
  8. War Of My Life
  9. Edge Of Desire
  10. Do You Know Me
  11. Friends Lovers Or Nothing