Born And Raised was put on ice for eight long months when treatable granuloma (tiny collections of immune cells) were discovered next to John Mayer’s vocal chords. Mayer’s legion of female admirers can all breathe a deep sigh of relief; the surgery not only proved a success but left his smooth as silk vocals fully intact. Fittingly enough, following the loverman laments of 2009 Battle Studies, Mayer is once again putting his soft engendering tone to work on a collection of gentle romantic reflections.
Even by Mayer’s standards Born And Raised is leisurely paced, the arrangements sway at a hammock’s pace, and the entire record kissed by the orangey rays of a California sunset. Mayer’s playing is easy and sensuous. What it lacks in arresting punch, it gains in subtlety and thematic cohesion. For seven tracks Mayer never falters. Full to the brim with delightful engaging soul-pop and endearing hooks, Sony must have felt spoilt for choice. “Speak For Me”, “The Age Of Worry”, “Queen of California” and “Born And Raised” may be a tad prosaic, but they were all built for mid-afternoon radio dominance.
This is a John Mayer record lest we forget, and a mid album wobble and a host of cringe worthy couplets are an inevitability. “Love Is A Verb” is the first and primary offender. Contrived in the extreme, it’s practically pleading to soundtrack some god awful banking advert or soppy romantic comedy. “No you can’t get through love, on just a pile of IOUs”, deep John. The saccharine title “A Face To Call Home” should warn off those expecting anything but smultzy sentimentality. At times Mayer stumbles on a suitably wide eyed but resilient tone but, like Chris Martin before him, he’s a victim of his own endeavour. Trying far too hard, Mayer has a tendency to take a good line a groan-inducing step too far; “You know my paper heart, the one I filled with pencil marks. I think I might have gone and inked you in”.
“Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967” offers a stark shift in subject matter and represents the album’s most adventurous composition (that’s not saying much). It’s a suitable pleasant and uplifting affair, highlighting both Mayer’s greatest weakness and his most consistent source of strength. Even when he tries to expand his remit, consciously alluding to the Fab Four, his play it safe pop sensibilities take over, and he remains firmly in the middle of the road. This is no bad thing of course. There’s a reason both the ladies and labels love Mayer, but if he’s going to shake off the nagging tag of mediocrity, he’s going to have to step out of his comfort zone and show some real soul.
Buy If:Sauntering along a California beach as the sun sets with John Mayer sounds like heaven.
Avoid If:Mid tempo cosy rock’n’soul sounds like hell.
Best Track:“Speak For Me”
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