For over ten years now, John Mayer has prided himself and, in some ways, been integral in keeping the flame alive for bluesy guitar music. Albums Continuum and Room for Squares found themselves to be unlikely cult classics spawning hit after hit. Battle Studiesfound Mayer dabbling in new styles, swapping his trademark glassy tone for some acoustic stylings, though it still ultimately felt like a Mayer record. The Hendrix influence was still clear, but a new Mayer was definitely on the cards, he even debuted his first folk song on the record to rave reviews.
It’s been three long years since that album was dropped and Born and Raised was set to be another classic Mayer album in most fans’ minds.
How wrong we were.
Born and Raised is a complete departure from anything Mayer has completed in the past. Not necessarily bad, but different.
From the opening track “Queen of California” fans are given 12 country tracks that put even a long time listener like myself, at a bit of an odds with Mayer’s new sound.
Follow up track “Age of Worry” is a much more typical Mayer track instrumentally and melodically. The sentiments of the lyrics reflect early tracks about the frivolity of life and resemble songs like “War of My Life” from Battle Studies. Lead single “Shadow Days” is the stand-out track from the record, which isn’t a great thing. The song sounds a lot like the weaker moments of Continuum and Battle Studies and would remain filler on said records.
One thing from the record that I found aggravating was the incessant use of the fade out. Very rarely was there a definitive end to a track, rather a lazy fade out which implies that Mayer could be beginning to run out of ideas for his music. Please John, use some definition in your music.
The melodies in the record are classic Mayer, they rise and fall in constant and consistent waves that carry you along to the end of the phrase each time with little effort.
“Something Like Olivia” is the most Hendrix-y the record gets as the dead notes ring out with bravado and the organ gets a real work out. Title-track “Born and Raised” again sounds as though a B-Side to early Mayer tracks, nothing in the record really strikes me as particularly intuitive work. “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” features the overuse of the harmonica that the album will be known for its shamelessly country lyrics which make use of all the cliches.
For something to be a part of the country genre isn’t necessarily bad, rather it alters the perception of the record. It is by definition a less listener friendly genre and is certainly the most divisive amongst music fans. Mayer’s only problem is that he doesn’t write country music effectively, he should have stuck to writing great pop songs.
Hopefully this foray into the different will spur him on to return to what he knows on the next record