Key Tracks: “Dear Marie,” “Call Me the Breeze”
It’s important to note that John Mayer underwent throat surgery last year, which sidelined him from the public eye and lessened the landing of his 2012 album, “Born and Raised.” “Paradise Valley” might suffer a small blow, too, although an extensive tour he’s currently on will help advertise. It’s important to note that because it explains the album’s subdued nature. After recovering from throat surgery, Mayer surely wanted to lay low and take things easy on the next album. There’s no reason to blame him for that. And there are some very quaint and pretty songs on the album, with an unusual eclecticism. But the little energy there is used up by the halfway point. It actually audibly drains out during the sixth track, slightly past the halfway point, and never comes back.
As with some of Mayer’s previous works (and in response to his recovery), the music is the primary focus of the album. It is still resembling of a pop album, but with sections of full instrumentation, often harmonica or guitar. Mayer is, admittedly, a phenomenal guitarist, and many songs feature his rambling, passionate solos. His guitar work proves that a good guitar solo doesn’t have to have any urgency or rapidity to it, as long as the emotion is there. The other good point musically is the slight eclectic nature. There are just enough blues and country elements thrown in to save the album from being too boring.
But it does get pretty boring. While it is often gorgeous, many of the songs are also forgettable. It’s a thin line, and the album falls on the wrong side of it a few too many times. No idea sticks around longer than it needs to, but the ones on the album’s latter half are often boring from the start. A cover of JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” (often wrongfully attributed to Lynyrd Skynyrd) bolsters the varying elements, and serves as a nice, unplanned tribute to the recently fallen blues hero.
Vocally, Mayer’s voice still sounds good when he wants it to. Again, it isn’t the focus, but adds a nice accompaniment to the music. It is still pop, after all. What may the album’s worst quality is two wasted guest spots. Mayer is alone on nine of the eleven tracks, so his two guest spots already feel a little out of place. The first, a song called “Who You Love” (the aforementioned, energy-draining sixth track) delegates Katy Perry to some harmonious background vocals, most of which could have just been recorded by a session singer. The second spot, “Wildfire,” features Frank Ocean on a song that’s only 1:26 long. Ocean mostly does that somehow-beautiful pitch-singing he does, resulting in what’s basically just an interlude. It’s almost as if Mayer and Ocean recorded the song out of necessity, to sign their names on a continued partnership. Ocean is one of the most talented and interesting people in music today, so the point of the song is largely lost.
Save the guest spots, there is nothing inherently wrong about the album. It eventually succumbs to it’s own dullness and it’s largely unremarkable, when Mayer isn’t strumming away. It often sounds pristine, and it’s a nice listen for someone looking for a smooth and low-key listen. Otherwise, it drags on too long with it’s overly subdued sound. A little energy wouldn’t have hurt.
-By Andrew McNally