Wednesday, May 21, 2014

John Mayer - Paradise Valley (2013)


     Although maybe known to the public eye mostly as the Hollywood playboy, a douchebag even, as he has oftentimes appeared in yellow newspapers with headlines discussing his high-profile romances with numerous actresses/singers, and  has given, some say, arrogant interviews (the man has got quite a sharp sense of humour), beneath all that fuss and talk, Mayer undoubtably belongs to the respected group of today’s most talented rockstars. With his impressive guitar playing skills (his personal idols are Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King) and the ability to sing at the same time, Mayer definitely deserves some credit. Which he gets, even from the haters who are still caught up in his image of a yet another pop star singing mediocre love songs on MTV over a decade ago.
     Mayer has clearly gone through various transfromations since then and developed his own recognisable sound, which includes elements of classic blues, rock ’n’ roll and soul – something that careful listeners could have already heard on his first studio albums. The first record, though, which thoroughly confirmed that Mayer was a lot more than just a fifteen-minute pop-sensation is his third studio album blues-rock Continuum, released in 2006 with several hits and guitar solos that served as a proof that he was a musician to be taken seriously. In recent years, as Mayer has liked to experiment with different musical styles and genres over time, he now has decided to take on a more intimate country-folk sound and has released albums (Battle Studies in 2009 followed by Born and Raised in 2012) that reflect his step back from the public eye and some soul-searching. His latest and sixth full-lenght record is titled Paradise Valley, released in 2013, which is like kind of a sequel to Born and Raised—and the second in a supposed trilogy of roots-music albums—and even though the album does not have the dynamics that both Continuum and Born and Raised have, it is still a notable album that contains a set of songs that follows one of today’s best songwriters as he finds a new path for himself.
     Paradise Valley differs from his previous work in a way that it is more calm and relaxed. In addition, it does contain his familiar blues elements, but also some new and unexpected guest vocalists, such as Katy Perry and even more surprisingly Frank Ocean. Although it lacks Mayer’s attention grabbing guitar playing and at times is a bit nostalgic, it has the feeling of acceptance and is an optimistic album overall that really shows that he has grown up and made peace with the past.
     “Wildfire“ – the first song on the album is a real catchy one with the potential of becoming a hit. It has a summer feel to it with mellow vocals (one of his main traits) and is not short of some hand clapping, background cheers and an invigorating fade-out guitar solo.

     The second track, though, titled “Dear Marie“ is not so upbeat as the previous one, with lyrics like: "Remember me, I'm the boy you used to love when we were fifteen Now I wonder what you think when you see me on a magazine?" which have a sense of looking back on things and reach a confession as he sings: “ I've got my dream, but you've got family." Although with a hint of regret, there is a lack of bitterness and Mayer seems truly pleased with his place in life. In addition, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album and I must admit that listening to it makes me feel a little bit melancholy. The outro of the song is what really makes the song special with its enthralling vocals and engaging guitar sounds and drums.
     Another gem on this album is the eight track also entitled “Wildfire“, which features Frank Ocean, well actually the song is almost entirely sung by Frank, with little parts of Mayer joining in. It is sweet, heartfelt and accompanied with just a few instruments that make the song simple and really personal. The Guardian has even gone so far as to say that Frank Ocean’s appearance on the song “is easily the most striking 85 seconds on the record“. The only thing wrong with the track in my opinion is its lenght – it is too darn short and it really is annoying to hit the replay button over and over again.

     You know how you sometimes go through an album and instantly pick out your favourites and then when later you listen to the whole thing again, you suddenly stumble upon a song that somehow had previously gone kind of unnoticed and it is only now you discover it’s genius? Well that happened to me with the tenth track on the record titled “Badge and Gun“.

It is the perfect soundtrack for a lazy afternoon..or evening, night or morning.
     Another simple yet beautiful song on the album is “Paper Doll“, which is rumored to be Mayer’s response to a past affair with Taylor Swift. I am really happy with the official video of the song, though,  because it is just so weird...have a look :

- Joanna Kaarmaa

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