The Re-Spun and Revisited series is a collection of album reviews that are intended to go back and recollect on an album that has already been played. We all have albums we rediscover from time to time, and this is no different. Sometimes, it can be worth it to replay an album years later when you have the life experience(s) to understand the subject matter. We’ve found that coming back again to an album can really be refreshing down the line. Without further ado, we present to you Re-Spun and Revisited.
For a white kid from Fairfield, Conn., John Mayer sure knows how to dodge bullets. In 2010, Mayer almost ended his career with a series of unfiltered and very politically incorrect interviews in Rolling Stone and Playboy, the latter being the most damaging to his reputation as a person and a musician. In an effort to save his career, Mayer retreated to the rolling grasslands and mountainous valleys of Montana, buying a large property away from the glaring lights and relentless camera flashes of Hollywood. He unplugged. No more social media. No more interviews. No more shotgun questions. Mayer had thought he was safe, but karma had found him even in the most secluded of vales.
In 2011, Mayer was told he had developed a granuloma near his vocal cords. Many thought it was an effective remedy for his Fruit-by-the-Foot tongue and diarrhea of the mouth that had become famous in the magazine tabloids and Twitter feeds. The granuloma was treated just in time for Mayer to record 2012’s Born and Raised, but it managed to re-emerge right before his tour for that record, effectively benching him that year. It was thought he would never sing again but, alas, Mayer has returned with a new effort: Paradise Valley.
In Paradise Valley, Mayer dusts off his Martin guitar and starts plucking away where Born and Raised left off. Introspective country folk tunes populate the disk like his last album, but this can be thought of Born and Raised’s more extroverted sibling. Whereas Born and Raised was a meditation on Mayer’s life and where he went wrong in relating to other people, Paradise Valley can be seen as a celebration of life’s pleasure and pain. Mayer has attempted to recreate his serene Montana surroundings on this album rather than going for the Laurel Canyon feel he explored on Born and Raised. He does his by tipping the scale – more Americana/country and less folk. Mayer once again manages to lay aside his virtuosity at guitar in an attempt to let his lyrics and ethereal melodic weavings that he’s made his trademark, speak. “Waitin’ On The Day” does this quite well, displaying Mayer’s newfound penchant towards lyrics that focus on maturity.
Lyrically, Paradise Valley is not his strongest or hardest hitting. His lyrics lack the urgency and voracious hunger shown on 2006’s Continuum or even 2003’s Heavier Things. However, Paradise Valley isn’t so much about the lyrics than it is about creating a certain vibe, a certain feeling that emanates through the music. It’s quite unfortunate that, in comparison to those two aforementioned albums, the lyrics on this album seem quite hollow, passionless, and soft in comparison. “Paper Doll” is a prime example of this; the lyrics are the most sharp-edged on the album with rumored barbs towards Taylor Swift. However, even that has the impact of a kindergartner throwing a teddy bear at a brick wall. That’s saying something for Mayer who tends to veer towards the less confrontational side of the spectrum, anyway. This can be a frustrating experience for someone who is familiar with what Mayer is capable of lyrically.
The more redeeming parts of this album (ironically) come in the form of outside contributions via J.J. Cale, Frank Ocean, and Katy Perry. Mayer cover’s of J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” sounds like taking a walk through a Midwestern cornfield, and his duo with Katy Perry on “Who You Love” adds some interesting variation to the album. The other outside contribution belongs to Mayer’s bromance buddy Frank Ocean (he was featured on Ocean’s Channel Orange last year), but his version of “Wildfire” sounds out of place and, unfortunately for someone of Ocean’s talent, like filler. I understand it was meant to seem like an interlude, but the album didn’t necessarily need it.
“On The Way Home” is a refreshing closer to the album, as it somehow manages to lend a sense of finality to the album with the lyrics “The summer’s over/this town is closing /they’re waving people out of the ocean”. In a sense, “Wildfire” can be seen as the beginning of the summer, while the rest of the album is the days and weeks leading up to the end of the summer. This effectively makes Paradise Valley a concept album in the vein of all of Mayer’s other albums.
In today’s music-as-consumption environment, John Mayer has managed to do what few modern artists are able to do: he has been able to create a narrative within his albums. Most albums today are a mish-mosh of songs thrown together with no knowledge or desire for some sort of concept. When viewed as a whole, Mayer’s discography can been seen as a man on the quest for exploring new (yet old) musical ideas. His evolution from goofy next door heartthrob to blues-rock maestro to bad boy Lothario and now country folk crooner has been nothing short of interesting.
Mayer fans are holding their breath for another Continuum, but they’ll die of oxygen deprivation before it happens. Mr. Mayer had a desire to prove himself to the world in a way that he doesn’t feel he has to now. Now, he sounds like a man willing to ease into middle age with a sense of contentment and desire for having some sort of partner (Perry) who he feels he can rely on. Mayer knows he’ll probably never return to the type of commercial success he had back in his Continuum days. However, judging on the way he acts at his recent shows, I don’t think he really cares.
“Who You Love”
“On The Way Home”