Top critical review
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...in which John Mayer proves his detractors right
on 4 January 2010
I've been a John Mayer fan for a while now (since "Heavier Things", I guess), and while he's always walked a pretty fine line between commercial pop and more substantial musical endeavours, I've never seen much merit to the sorts of criticism he seems to attract in the states- he's never seemed quite the MOR pretty-boy barely-better-than-the Backstreet-Boys sugary pop crooner horror people have made him out to be. His lyrics were *just* clever enough, his songwriting *just* strong and original enough to keep him credible.
Of course, in the context of THIS album, a lot of that criticism makes sense. Unnecessary string sections, wimpy, mushy, reverb-y production (by world-renowned DRUMMER Steve Jordan), rent-a-celeb duet with someone (Taylor Swift) from the other side of the credible/commercial divide (assuming JM's still on the "credible" side- I'll wait for the next album...), and songs and lyrics that are among the blandest he's produced. It's not a BAD album, it's just not that good. Having said that, I quite liked what he did with "Crossroads", which seems to have been pretty universally hated by other reviewers.
I read somewhere that one of the aims of this album was for Mayer not to "hide behind" his guitar playing. Personally, I've never really thought of JM as someone who could be accused of that. If anything, I find myself wanting MORE "hott lixx" on his records, not less. Considering how many rock guitarists name-drop the great bluesmen as influences, as JM does, it's rare to hear one who learned the lesson of restraint, and John is one- his guitar playing has always been tasteful and never showy, and it's a shame that he felt that wasn't adding to his music, since to my mind the fact that he can play his instrument with real skill and class and balls is one of the things that sets him above the manufactured commercial dross his critics would lump him in with.
If you're new to John Mayer, may I recommend that you spend your money on "Heavier Things" or "Continuum" (or Room For Squares, which is still better than this, although not as good as his other albums). If you're a John Mayer completist, you can purchase this album safe in the knowledge that you'll hear plenty of things this year far, far worse than this. Maybe it's a grower. As I hinted earlier, it would be sad to see John settle in to some sort of MOR Michael-Buble-of-the-blues thing (sorry, Buble-philes), and the strength of his previous work merits cutting him some slack pending his next offering, but this album was a disappointment. I hope to hear John with his guitar strapped back on and his balls re-attached in a couple of years.