The Harbinger Online

John Mayer’s new release ‘Battle Studies’ switches up his usual sound

On a car ride home, I decide to listen to the album “Continuum” by John Mayer. I gaze out the window for what seems like a few minutes. When the music stops, I pull my iPod out of my pocket to what the next song on the playlist will be. To my surprise, I’ve already listened to the whole album.

Mayer’s songs, especially those on “Continuum,” sound extremely similar. However, this may have been the point; to create an album of music that sounds continuous (hence the name, “Continuum”). But even if this is true, I believe an album should have a certain degree of variety. In this respect, I found some relief in his new album, “Battle Studies.” Mayer manages to reach beyond his normal limits of blues, packing many genres of music into his album. However, this was simply the wrong kind of variety. Though I applaud Mayer for experimenting outside his normal realm of blues, I think he simply missed the target.

After listening to a few tracks, I realized that Mayer was going for something completely different in “Battle Studies.” It’s almost a new Mayer, but not quite. It’s still the same guitar-heavy, mellow-sounding John, but simply a different flavor. For example, with the help of Taylor Swift, he introduces a country-swing feeling in “Half of My Heart.” No album before this had ever hinted at country. Another big factor in why each song has its own unique sound is in the introduction. Instead of starting most songs with a drum or guitar and adding other instruments later, Mayer’s intros include a variety of instruments, such as a bass, xylophone, or tuning orchestra. However, the problem with moving outside his normal music domain is that he loses the style unique to his music.

This unique style is apparent in “Continuum,” and it was able to spark an interest for me in John Mayer. I now feel that interest fading. Even though his songs on “Continuum” may have sounded very similar, they were unique as a whole. There’s no mistaking his music on “Continuum” for that of another artist. The slow, easy-going beats, the long periods of rest between lyrics, the voice that that gives the impression of a loud whisper. Mayer didn’t follow the step-by-step guidelines laid out by years of song-writers on how a song should sound. But with this new album, his music seems to lose this unique quality. It becomes a mish-mash of songs I swore I had heard before. The variety in “Battle Studies” is nice, but I’ll simply return to listening to “Continuum” if it means sacrificing those unique qualities.

For example, in “Who Says,” which was out as a single before the album’s release, Mayer declares that it’s been “A long night in New York City” and “A long night in Baton Rouge.” That song was a long 2:55 in my mind. Frankly, the phrase “a long night in …” sounds formulaic and unoriginal. Overall, I found “Who Says” to be very predictable. Mayer must have said these two words ten times during the song. The verse, which consists of Mayer asking the question “Who says I can’t I get stoned?” in as many ways as possible, is pretty short, so Mayer repeats it several times. This becomes very tiring by the end of the song, especially since Mayer makes no variations on the verse. It’s the same exact progression with the same exact instruments. I looked for relief in the bridge but was disappointed to hear a tune that simply mimicked the chorus. This song, which reflects the album’s unoriginality, was harder and harder to get through the more times I listened to it.

The third track, “Half of My Heart,” could’ve been a cool mixture of country and blues. But even in the opening lines, the song sounded as if Taylor Swift was featuring John Mayer, not the other way around. Mayer may have sung lead vocals, but the style spelled Swift. This is the first song by Mayer where there is fast strumming on an acoustic guitar, which is characteristic of Swift’s songs. This slight change makes the world of difference. If Swift sung lead vocals, it would fit perfectly in one of her albums. This was very irritating, especially since I’m no Taylor Swift fan. When I listen to John Mayer, I want to hear John Mayer, not a song that yields to the style of other artists.

I am the type to sit and listen to a song for about two minutes before choosing another one. I had hoped I could break this habit by listening to “Battle Studies,” but I had no luck there. Though I stated earlier these songs are more distinguishable than those found on earlier albums, they are still repetitive. Once the intro is finished, nothing new is added. For the most part, there are no new instruments or changes in the guitar line. Maybe now that Mayer has created variety among songs, he can work to create variety within a song.

So, there was variety, but it was the wrong kind of variety. Mayer had the right idea by going for something other than blues. But in “Battle Studies,” Mayer loses the unique style found in his previous albums, one that no other artist has been able to copy.

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