“A far more personal record than we’re used to from Mayer that embelishes the more subtle elements of his songwriting…”
John Mayer | Born & Raised
John Mayer’s Battle Studies was a difficult record for him. Released in 2009 against the backdrop of the disintegration of his relationship with Jennifer Aniston it was an album on which Mayer sounded disengaged and bored, bizarre considering he was singing what was potentially the most personal stuff of his career. That he, in a painfully unhinged interview with Rolling Stone that was largely spent talking about his sex life, admitted that it wasn’t his best work proved where Mayer’s head was at by the time its promotional run: warn out.
Coming three years later due to an enforced break after surgery on his vocal chords, Born & Raised, both in name and sound sees the man return to his roots. Not his actual roots, no – the preppy Connecticut teenager doesn’t see the light of day here – but his imagined roots; the roots that enjoyed long, sepia-toned sunsets and the warm glow of vinyl. He infact sums up Born & Raised best himself on the acoustic roll of the opening ‘Queen of California’ – “Looking for the song that Neil Young hummed after the gold rush in 1971”. This isn’t an album for fans of the soloing blues virtuoso. It is one however for those that have previously enjoyed the more subtle elements of Mayer’s songwriting.
Never is this more apparent than on the delicate title track. A harmonica-assisted slow country-jam it sees Mayer cutting the humour, stepping out from behind his 140 character Twitter shield and admit “it’s such a waste to grow up lonely” – a refreshing admittance for a man that has had a very public personal life in terms of his own relationships. That is features David Crosby and Graham Nash on inch-perfect backing harmonies makes it all the sweeter.
‘Something Like Olivia’, a crisp toe-tapping, horn-assisted pop nugget, also finds its writer rallying against his public persona, claiming with hands aloft that “I’m not trying to steal no love away from no one man”. Musically we’re on the slightly more Mayer-fied dusty track than before – a guitar solo is allowed, albeit it a condensed, taught one – yet it’s still nowhere near the bells and whistles that he got close to on Battles Studies tracks such as ‘Heartbreak Warefare’. If this record’s aim was, as he admitted, to evoke the spirit of a wandering cowboy plucking his guitar by the fire then he pretty neatly succeeds.
On ‘Speak For Me’ his nostalgia is even clearer as he mourns that lack of true modern music heroes like the guys he was singing with or singing about earlier in the record “now the cover of a Rolling Stone ain’t the cover a Rolling Stone”. During the title track he makes reference to his parents recent divorce – “I got a mum, I got a dad, but they do not have each other” – confused by his relationship with both now that they are apart.
It all adds up to a record equally if not more personal than what came before it, but now that it’s matched with instrumentation that’s just as intimate it is a record that reveals more about its maker than he’s previously let go. Born & Raised is not perfect, but it is the sound of a reengaged John Mayer who has tales to tell and thoughts to share. After the battle now comes the peace.