Review: Mayer flounders with self-penned soft rock

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 1:08 PM

John Mayer, "Battle Studies" (Columbia)

The multitudes root for tousled-hair troubadour John Mayer to break from his tabloids 'n Twitter drama to give us what we've grown accustomed to _ smart lovestruck lyrics and the best blues/rock guitar of a generation.

So here is his latest album, "Battle Studies," and it appears master Mayer has gone all soft around the edges and relented to laying what can only be considered an epic egg.

It won't be an egg in the sales sense, of course. He'll fly off the point-of-sale shelves at some well-trafficked coffee shop chain, and get prominent position at retailers online and off.

But make no mistake about it, this is pulseless pablum.

His signature guitar work is barely there, drowned instead under a cacophany of middling percussion and a muddle of soft instrumental work. This from a man with the ability to absolutely blister a fretboard and sing mellifluously along with it.

Mayer could have gone on the attack during "All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye." But he instead falls into a mushy soft rock abyss. The lyrics are there, but the music can't hold them up properly for display.

He tries to change the mood on "Assassin," which is also about heartbreak _ aren't they all? _ but has a darker tone to it. "You get in, you get done and then you get gone/ You never leave a trace or show your face you get gone," Mayer sings.

But hold on. What are those wind chimes and Muzak-ish muck during the intro? Maracas? A rain stick? A didgeridoo? Where is the guy who went off the rails, snubbed his nose at his pop hit certainties and brilliantly went gritty bluesman for the better part of a year? He's nowhere to be found on this track and most others.

When Mayer launches into a peppy, modernized version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" it's clear all hope is lost. There's no fire to the brief guitar solo. There's no hard blues to his throwaway treatment of this blues classic. And for a guy who can play the blues in his sleep, that's a sin.

"Battle Studies" is so soft it makes Fleetwood Mac sound like Slayer. Mayer can do much better than this and why he didn't is simply perplexing.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Mayer teams with country-music wunderkind Taylor Swift on "Half Of My Heart," a pleasing if safe track that is bound to find a consistent home on radio dials across the U.S. "Lonely was the song I sang/ 'Til you came my way" Mayer sings among other niceties. Swift is barely on this track, perking up only in the second half of four minutes, but she's smooth when she arrives.