For folks with a penis, John Mayer usually crops up as an artist who you’re a “homo” if you listen to. Not only do I disagree, but I feel that Mayer has gotten a short stick in terms of people’s general impression of him. His first major album, Room For Squares, broke him out into the mainstream, and it was based on a couple of singles that his entire future musical catalog was condemned to be frat guy acoustic rock for girls. This impression couldn’t be farther from reality. Mayer has produced up until this year three quality albums out of three. His latest, Battle Studies, might in fact be his simplest effort yet, but the quality overall might be his most consistent since Heavier Things.
The album kicks off with “Heartbreak Warfare”, an absolute pop music gem of a song where Mayer seems to ingest a troubling situation with an ex-lover. It also successfully kicks off a new phase of Mayer’s musical evolution, that of the pop star. Each of his previous albums seemed to have varying themes, sensibilities, and influences, and this one seems more geared toward universal appeal. This is not entirely a bad thing for anyone.
If there was any doubt in your mind, “Half of My Heart” should bring you to my side of the fence. Here, we get Mayer paired with Taylor Swift (although in a minimal vocal role), and another catchy radio tune. It’s upbeat and breezy, and Swift isn’t on the track in a gimmicky sort of way. Actually, if she weren’t credited, I wouldn’t have even known it was her.
This leads us to what is actually the weakest track on the album, ironically the first single, “Who Says”. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it is unfortunately destined to accompany plenty of romantic comedy montages in the next couple of years. It’s simple, almost too simple, and although it doesn’t suck, it’s really the only song on the album that doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the album. It just sounds like something that would be added to a re-release of Room for Squares.
Then the album reaches its strongest portion, a four-song stretch starting with “Assassin” and ending with “Edge of Desire”. Each song is distinctly Mayer at his best, at the top of his game, never reaching too far in one direction. The first song of the stretch, “Assassin”, seems to be about his discovery of a woman who was every bit up to the task of breaking a heart as he was. The next, “Crossroads”, is actually a Cream-inspired cover that Mayer does a good job with. He seems to like to throw a cover on his albums, and this one actually blends in better with the rest of the album than the cover on Continuum (“Bold As Love”). That leads us into “War of My Life” which is another very distinct Mayer song. It has every necessary touch for a John Mayer fan to feel comfortable, without offering anything specifically groundbreaking or different from previous efforts, as does the following song “Edge of Desire”. The album ends with “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing”, and it’s a typical Mayer finale, as it’s a good conclusion to an album that seems to deal with a lot of relationship issues without being blatantly patronizing or traumatically condescending.
John Mayer once again gives John Mayer fans exactly what they want to hear. No one can condemn him for not being terrifically consistent as an artist, as he has now put out four very solid solo albums without rewriting the genre while also subtly tweaking his style and evolving. You can’t deny the guitar chops are obviously they’re on Battle Studies, and Mayer proves that you can rock while giving the music an intimate touch at the same time.
Album Score: 7.5/10