Album review: John Mayer - 'Born and Raised'
John Mayer is a bit of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The dichotomy between all his blues and charm and total douchbaggery is well-known, which makes him a difficult person to judge – his public persona does not gel with his music.
His latest album Born and Raised is the epitome of this dichotomy. It’s stunning – this is the Mayer of Daughters and No Such Thing, alongside the Mayer of slamming Jessica Simpson in Playboy.
It seems the more he becomes a douche, the better music he makes. He’s put the two Mayers together to make one hell of an explosive personal journey into his musical brilliance and lyrical confessions.
Yes, his personal life comes galloping through this album like a wild horse, and it works. It sucks to be honest/and it hurts to be real, he sings on Shadow Days – an allusion to being burned by his recent bad, bad behaviour.
Musically, it’s blues, country, folk and easy vocals coupled with classy guitar.
The tone set by Queen of California, a CSNY-laced opening with lyrics Looking for the sun that Neil Young hung/After the gold rush of 1971, the album evokes images of a nomadic cowboy strumming his guitar by the fireside, telling stories of his life, love and everything else. It’s disillusioned, but also a search for redemption – a reconciliation of his life and music and how hard it is to come to grips with yourself when you’ve crashed and burned – in life and by the industry.
Speak for Me is a lament that rock no longer creates the heroes of old. Now the cover of a Rolling Stone/Ain't the cover of a Rolling Stone, he sings. MTV ain’t MTV no more – we all know the feeling.
His vocals are soft and almost vulnerable, with his guitar work strumming honesty through its elegance, most evident in the title track, where it’s everything this album is lyrically and musically rolled together with classic John Mayer.
Love is a Verb, which initially seems to smack of the horrible Your Body is a Wonderland, eases into a cute ballad – definitely one for the ladies.
On the other hand, the mature Age of Worry is a very settled and almost-at-peace Mayer advising us to make friends with what you are…
The masterpiece is Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967, which is the reincarnation of old school Bob Dylan laced with ‘90s accessibility. It’s stripped-down, simple and classic ‘homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride’.
Born and Raised is, by far, the most convincing, honest and resounding album of John Mayer’s career. It’s modern singer-songwriter stuff with more soul, with acoustics wrapping themselves around you like a quilt.
It's that moment where the dichotomy comes together almost seamlessly. And let me tell you, it’s quite something.
Welcome back to the world, John Mayer.