Saturday, November 21, 2009

Album Review: John Mayer - Battle Studies (3/5)

Following up to one of today's modern masterpieces, Continuum, was always going to be hard task, so it's that much of a worry that John Mayer's fourth album doesn't quite live up to expectations. As you do after you have just had a hit album (unless your Mariah Carey) you want the next album to take a shift in sound, either to show versatility or show you are an exciting artist. One of Mayer's biggest comparisons, Nora Jones (who funnily enough has a new album out right now) did the same thing after her first album, Come Away with Me, became an earth-shattering monster hit--she changed up her acoustic-pop, jazz sound, embracing some folk for her follow-up and it worked.

Where, Battle Studies, doesn't quite click is that it goes in a completely different direction from Continuum. Mayer now indulges in a more serious blend of alternative rock and pop-orientated folk, which could have been a winning combination, but unfortunately it's not, but that goes without saying that there are handful of highlights here such as opening track "Heartbreak Warefare," which lives up to that more serious alternative sound as its backed by heavy-drums, strings and keyboards. Guitar-heavy "All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye" is a sweeping ballad and so it the breezy collaboration with Taylor Swift on "Half of My Heart."

I see some Jack Johnson influences on the folky lead single "Who Says," I like this song a lot--possibly the best on the album following "Heartbreak Warfare." "Perfectly Lonely," is another favorite, however there's the feeling that it could have been something more, maybe building up to a bigger climax rather its flat showings throughout the whole song.

Well, that's the good over with. I like the electronic guitars in "Assassin," but its ultimately a very bland track. Keyboard-heavy "Crossroads," sufferers from the same problem. "War of My Life," well it's a very epic title, so I guess it's ironic that the actual thing is pretty boring and I normally like songs that just use drums, strings and vocal.

Chilled "Edge of Desire," bring up the album. It's slightly Coldplay-esque, with keyboards, drums and guitars. It's really nice and it's the only good song on the second half on the album as the last two tracks are anything less than amazing. Twingy strings and subdued skittering hi-hats take the forefront on "Do You Know Me," which isn't a bad composition, but is it so bland? Closing track "Friends, Lovers or Nothing" is an cool ballad, but it's defiantly no "Dreaming with a Broken Heart."

Battle Studies, is a disappointing album--the shift in sound really fell short for Mayer, it's lucky the first five tracks are so strong or it would have been less than a 3 out of 5. I would love for him to return to what works for him the next time around, maybe he should have took notes from Mariah and used the if-it's-not-broken-don't-fix-it technique. I wonder how Nora Jones' album will compare.

Best: Heartbreak Warfare, All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye, Half of My Heart, Who Says, Perfectly Lonely, Edge of Desire

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