REVIEW: John Mayer – Battle Studies

John-Mayer-Battle-Studies-Album-CoverArtist: John Mayer
Album: Battle Studies
Genre: Rock
Label: Columbia

I think it goes without saying that whether you like him or not, you’ve at least heard a song by John Mayer. Ever since his debut on the national scene, Mayer has blazed a path all his own and has become the young hope of rock and roll in an era flooded by overproduction and bad metal. Throughout out each release and side project, Mayer has made music he loved and felt passionate about while fans everywhere followed closely behind. Now, with the release of his fourth studio album, Battle Studies, the still young musician moves further into his artistic maturity by giving to us his “heartbreak handbook.”

From the beginning, there’s an obvious sonic connection to the grooves that made Mayer’s album Continuum such a success as everything has a very laid back and live feeling that makes everything quite personal from the get go. “Heartbreak Warfare,” the opening track, finds Mayer depicting the final moments of a broken relationship. The guitars echo with a timeless tone while Mayer’s raw pop vocals croon along perfectly until the gritty guitar solo comes in and takes everything to the next level. This bluesy buildup leads us however, into the acoustic led “All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye” which gives us our first real taste of Mayer’s strongly developed songwriting abilities. Trust me, if you’re not sold on Mayer and this record by the end of the first chorus, you may actually have no musical taste whatsoever. This track has “timeless” written all over it.

Following Mayer’s take on a more country rock style with the Mellencamp-esque “Half of My Heart,” we find the controversial, yet stunningly well made “Who Says” that works to keep us listening closer and closer to what seems to be developing into John Mayer’s finest hour. This then leads us to the mildly generic [for him] “Perfectly Lonely” which feels destined for radio success, but doesn’t exactly keep the momentum of the record flowing too well. This is, however, recovered almost instantaneously with “Assassin.” Now, I know that 5+ minute songs are not for everyone, but this is definitely a track to give some of your attention to as Mayer showcases his absolute best storytelling to date. The song is very mellow, but the tension within the track could make one’s skin crawl. It’s musical perfection.

It’s at this point, just about halfway in, that the songs really find a solid groove. Up until this point, the styles have changed quite a bit between songs making the flow a bit uneven, but compensating with strong writing. Now the album really lays into this modern take on 70’s folk rock with a blues twist that I think you’d be quite hard pressed to find elsewhere. “War of My Life” seems destined to be an adult contemporary/Grey’s Anatomy fan hit due to it having this near funk bass line that keeps you grooving along with each and every syllable Mayer utters. Also, as you move towards the end of the record you’ll find what I would consider to be John Mayer’s finest work to date, “Edge of Desire.” Whether it’s the guitar work, the pacing, or the passionate lyrics, nothing about this song is short of stunning.

Now I know that because John Mayer is a top 40 artist, it’s considered “uncool” to be a fan of his music. However, anyone that has taken a moment to listen to any of his non-radio catalog would tell you only a musical fool would think him anything short of spectacular. From starting as a clean-faced young man with an acoustic guitar to a grown up man whose not afraid to explore all corners of music, John Mayer has continually pushed himself farther and farther in his career and Battle Studies may just be his masterpiece. From the overall feel of the record to the songwriting, everything flows perfectly. Though it’s said to be a handbook for the heartbroken, I think time may just show it to be a handbook on true musicianship.

Score: 9/10

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Sam

    You hit the nail on the head regarding the flow of the beginning of the CD. Jumping from “Heartbreak Warfare” to “All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye” was pretty jarring.

    First thing I thought while I was listening to this cd was “where’s the guitar?” I’ve been so acclimated to Continuum and Where the Light is (his live cd) that I forgot he started out (to the public at least) as a songwriter first, standout blues player second. He had something to prove with Continuum, and he certainly accomplished it. I think this new cd is a step back to a happy medium between his songwriting and blues chops.

    To be honest I wished this CD had more standout guitar work than it did, but the quality of the songwriting is fantastic, even when the guitar playing took a backseat. Mayer seems to following the same path as the guitar legends by mixing up the musical feel of his work, and it makes me excited for the future.

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  • Teaching anything takes a certain kind of personality. Can you remember a favorite school teacher? That teacher stood out from all the others because they knew how to reach you at your level. I can only remember two great teachers. I excelled in their classes. Well, it’s the same with guitar instructors. Most just don’t know how to reach us to teach us.