Album Review: John Mayer, “Paradise Valley” (2013)

At the start of the summer, when I heard that John Mayer was releasing a new album, I was half-convinced that Christmas had actually come early. Afterall, it is winter in Australia, so the combination of the cold weather, and well- the best news EVER- had me thinking that I’d gotten my months mixed up and it really was Christmastime.

After all, Mayer’s last album, Born and Raised, was just released last year, and in all of his career, John Mayer has never released two albums in such quick succession. I didn’t know what it meant, but I didn’t care- I was excited, and in fact, I can’t even wait until the official release date of the album (August 20th, 2013) and have instead been live-streaming Paradise Valley on iTunes all week.

Born and Raised was Mayer’s first real foray into country music, and Paradise Valley takes the theme and wholeheartedly runs with it. This music sounds more like country music than the rock/pop/blues we’re used to hearing from Mayer. Obviously his new lifestyle (he recently moved to Montana, and the album is even named after a river in the state) has rubbed off on him musically, but it’s a surprisingly good fit. Legendary producer, Don Was (who also co-produced B&R), teams up with Mayer again for the eleven songs on the album.

The disc begins with Wildfire, an exuberant little number which plays as the perfect album opener. This song has “summer” written all over it- from the jazzy guitar licks right down to the clapping and bluesy backing instrumentation. Mayer offers up a carefree vocal delivery, which fits in perfectly amongst the breezy lyrics (“You look fine, fine, fine/Put your feet up next to mine/We can watch that water line/Get higher and higher/Say, say, say/Ain’t it been some kind of day/You and me been catching on/Like a wildfire”). The song was an instant love for me, and does a great job at setting the mood of the album.

Speaking of songs I instantly loved, Dear Marie appears next, a lovely mid-tempo ballad that I fell for on first listen. Mayer sings the song to a woman he dated in his youth (“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 the magazine/…Yeah, I’ve got my dream but you’ve got yourself a family/Yeah, I’ve got my dream but I guess it got away from me”) and the sentimental lyrics float along a southwestern melody. I’ve never really thought of Mayer as much of a balladeer, but this is easily one of his best. Waitin’ on The Day follows as another mid-tempo number; this time, Mayer fantasizes about the sort of future he hopes to have with his love (“When you’ll be there for me baby/When you’ll love me all the way/When you’ll take my side in every little fire fight/When you’ll hang your things and stay…”). Though I do enjoy the lyrics and the chorus, in particular, the music is a bit watered down and forgettable, especially in comparison to some of the livelier tracks on the album.

The album’s lead single is the mellow track, Paper Doll. The song is an obvious reference to Mayer’s highly publicized hook-up with country singer, Taylor Swift. The funny thing about this song is that after Swift released her song, “Dear John”, Mayer spoke out saying that it was “kind of cheap songwriting”. I completely agreed with him- I was never a fan of her kissing-and-singing songwriting technique, but now I find it pretty hypocritical for him to have released a song about her. Sure, the chorus of Paper Doll is slightly ambiguous enough that one might not instantly connect the dots (though the line, “you’re like 22 girls in one, and none of them know what they’re running from” is an obvious reference to Swift’s song, “22”.). Anyway, all that aside, the song just doesn’t do it for me musically either; the mellow tones float in my ear and away without leaving much impact.

Mayer duets with current girlfriend, Katy Perry, on Who You Love. If you’ve read my review on Perry’s Teenage Dream album, you’ll know that I’m definitely not a fan of her music. As far as my feelings about their dating relationship goes (I’ll admit to being incredibly critical of whom he’s dated in the past- why it makes any real difference to me, I can’t explain…), I’m still on the fence, but I suppose this song puts it simply:”You love who you love.” The simplistic chorus gets the point across easily, and though I’m still not a huge fan of Perry’s bland voice (anyone could’ve done this duet with Mayer and sounded better, but I digress…), the song is nice enough.

Thankfully, I’m a much bigger fan of the other artist Mayer chose to duet with. Wildfire gets a reprise, feature singing by R&B artist, Frank Ocean. The two dueted together on Ocean’s debut album (which I LOVED), and it’s nice to hear them together again. The track is only about 90 seconds long, and I would’ve enjoyed Mayer singing alongside Ocean, but those 90 seconds are beautiful, all the same.

My favourite song on the album is easily I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea). The ballad reminds me a lot of an unreleased track that I heard in concert, titled “Taking on Water”. Both songs had a similar theme of being lost in life and sort of floating by, waiting for someone to come along. This song has a definite country feeling to it that the other track lacked, but it works well, and musically, the song is quite beautiful. But it’s really the lyrics that get me here; Mayer perfectly describes the way it feels to be lost and does so in an honest and uplifting way (“So I keep running till my run is gone/I keep on riding ’till I see that dawn/And I will be found/I will be found”).

The rest of the album sounds like pure country music, which makes it all a bit hit and miss for me; at best, I’m a casual country fan and I probably own only three or four country albums, period. Call Me The Breeze is a remake of the country standard, and I can’t really say I’m a fan of it- the music is just a bit too twangy for my tastes. You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down sounds like something you’d hear sung at a midwestern bar, but it has a certain charm to it all the same. Badge and Gun calls to mind an old western movie and I’m sure that’s what Mayer was hoping to accomplish. My favourite part of the song is his delivery- his falsetto is spot-on during the catchy chorus. The disc ends with On The Way Home, a bouncy country-lite number, that’s nothing too remarkable, save the lovely little harmonica that plays throughout.

With only 11 songs and a runtime of about 40 minutes, I have to admit that Paradise Valley feels more like a sequel to Born and Raised than a standalone full-length album. There’s something incomplete about the album which I can’t really pinpoint; maybe it just feels a bit like a disc of B-sides or an EP, instead. Still, I’d never turn my nose up at new music from John Mayer, and there’s a handful of really great songs on the album that make the disc worth buying and listening to repeatedly.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg
Track Listing
1. Wildfire
2. Dear Marie
3. Waiting on the Day
4. Paper Doll
5. Who You Love
6. I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)
7. Call Me The Breeze
8. Badge And Gun
9. You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down
10. Wildfire
11. On The Way Home

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSRCpertZn8]
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