Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Can't Review Battle Studies

Trying to review Battle Studies is like trying to award a diploma to a fresh-out-tha-minivan college freshman. Allow me to explain. First off, listen to the first 25 seconds of this video.

"For me it's about patience. When I was younger, I thought watching someone shred something apart was...awesome, musically; but now what's really cool --- I love watching patience. I love watching...someone have more in their coffer than they're going to pull out that night. I just like that."

Point taken.

Next, think about 2007's "Where The Light Is" album (and awesome DVD). That album was proof that the songs grew during the tour.

Example: I Don't Trust Myself (Studio)


I Don't Trust Myself (Where The Light Is)

Yeah. Me too.

I think about this album like you'd think about a talented young college football player --- you can see that it has great potential, and maybe not operating at full-tilt today, but it's going to be fun to see how it changes over time, with more live performances.

I fully believe that by the time these songs get through a tour, they are going to be at their full potential. Right now I feel like they're almost intentionally spare, to make room for live concert growth.

I can't review "Battle Studies." I know I will read this 6 months from now and I'll feel embarrassed, like I missed the point on my first listen. I get that a lot with Mayer's music --- heck, I hated John Mayer's music until about 2006, when I heart his Strat tone on "Heart of Life" in my wife's car. I thought it was preppy girl music. Either there's more to it than that, or I am a preppy girl. (Please leave your retorts in the comments section, I know you got 'em). Without further adieu, I present my Not a Battle Studies Review:

Heartbreak Warfare: Just a monolithic song, lots of depth. The lyrics are great, and the groove sticks with you. Almost some U2 style nods in there. The solo has an obvious Jeff Beck influence. The "Heartbreak Warfare Strat" that he's been playing a lot recently, has both the Heartbreak Warfare logo on it (a logo for a song, dayum - that's when you know you're in the big time) and what appears to be a very obvious Jeff Beck-style hardware setup. Guitar nerds will know what I'm talking about (note the LSR roller nut). Hell, it might even be a Jeff Beck Strat.

I once wrote almost an entire paragraph about this guitar

All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye: I don't get this one yet. It's a nice, sweet song, with a chorus that is just the title of the song over and over. John calls that the "So Lonely." Hilarious. Very thoughtful solo, but I don't see this getting a lot of play time in my car.

Kiss me, John.
Not now, chief, I'm in the zone.

Half of My Heart: This one features Taylor Swift singing accent parts, and it has been stuck in my head like crazy. The theme of the song is revealed almost instantly, when Mayer adds a very distinct guitar accent over the first chords. Brilliant songwriting. In a lecture he gave at Berklee, John mentioned the importance of a theme in a song - something that you hear that instantly tells you what the song is, no question. The example he gave in the lecture was Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," which has one of the most recognizable "themes" of all time --- as soon as you hear that intro run, you know exactly what song it is without a doubt, and the whole song plays in your head in an instant. This has been the song I have been playing at home every time I pick up a guitar. The vocal harmonies are spectacular.

(Ed. Note: Listen to that Berklee lecture, whether you like Mayer or not. It changed the way I listen to music, and changed the way I write music. Should be a mandatory listen for anyone who likes music.)

Who Says: Already wrote this one up, still feel the same way. If you're taking this song at face value, you're missing the point.

Perfectly Lonely: This is your blue-eyed soul, backyard barbecue, beach party song. Lots of great licks in the Motown style, and lyrics that you'll use in your next bachelor party roast.

He works in the dead of night. Oh-ooo-whoa-ooo-oh-ooo-oh-ooh-whoa-ooo-oh.

Assassin: This is the masterpiece of the album. Dark, sinister, sexy. Mayer worked on this one for years, and it shows. It's a relationship metaphor that describes an assassin, who's mantra is "you get in, you get done, and then you get gone --- you never leave a trace or show your face, you get gone," who is caught off guard when he realizes that his target is an assassin too. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, anyone? Pino Palladino shines on this one, creating what's the perfect bass line for a song this dark. Steve Jordan's always-perfect drums create the perfect "dark alley" ambience. The guitar solo on this one, he just nails it. Perfect climax to an awesome song. The dénouement of this song is incredible, too. This song plays like a movie.

Just try and listen to Led Zeppelin without hearing Robert Johnson after clicking this picture.
Johnson died at age 27.

Crossroads: A Robert Johnson cover, played in the style of Cream (Eric Clapton)'s cover. Super clean and tight mix, and fun to hear John play with a really gritty "dead battery" fuzz tone. Super cool. Snaps you awake after you take the "Assassin" ride. One of the things I like about Mayer's music is that it connects the modern generation to blues greats from yesteryear. If one high school kid discovers Robert Johnson because of this song, it's done it's job.

He should win a Grammy just for figuring this fucking thing out

War of My Life: A beautiful song, a songwriter's song. Rumor has it that Mayer uses a MOOG guitar on this song. Reminds me of Room For Squares, with more restraint. You will be hearing this on Lite 98 when you're 40.

Edge of Desire: You know how your high school English teacher told you that you want to create tension and release with your writing? This song has the most moving buildup and freight-train-climax I've ever heard. When the harmonized guitar solo comes in, you will cry like the first time you saw Marley & Me. This is a song you could study for years. The melody and harmony vocals are elegant and will have you singing the harmony part in the car. The solo in this song pairs with the song as a whole better than any song I've ever heard. And I've heard a lot of music. My favorite song on the album that's not "Assassin."

Do You Know Me: Another song I don't get. Not to say that it's bad, just that it doesn't strike a chord with me. Kind of a funny premise, telling a girl she looks familiar and asking if she knows you. Of course she knows you, you're John Mayer (0:37, but watch it all for context. Like you have anything better to do).

Friends, Lovers or Nothing: Big, big, big. A "big-band" type of song, similar to the feel of "I'm Gonna Find Another You," that has lyrics that everyone on the planet can agree with. Smooth move, relating to people. You know how the best part of the Derek and The Dominos version of "Layla" is the tag at the end, the outro vamp? This song is just like that, with a hyperbolically memorable extended outro, the lyrics of which your daughter will probably get tattooed on her lower back after her first bad breakup. This is what music is all about.

So, team, I can't review Battle Studies. What I can do is tell you what I thought about it after my first listen. Be sure to focus on that, the "first listen" part.

Since I had pre-ordered the album and limited-edish t-shirt literally the first minute the pre-sale was open, I felt OK with grabbing the pre-release leak torrent. The actual album sounds, without a doubt, much better. I usually recommend buying music on Amazon MP3 for the convenience and price, but this album needs to be played on a real CD. The YouTubes don't do it justice. I am probably going to buy a turntable someday soon, specifically so I can spin this album on vinyl (and rack up a shitload of indie-cred).

Hearing and listening are different, do the latter,


  1. Nice 'first review'. I totally agree that some albums you have to let them mature in you. Mayer's stuff is definitely like that.

  2. I know about the firsr listen-feeling. I didn't feel the same way about Battle Studies the first time i listened, as i do know. It changes all the time. That's amazing, as long as you keep listening to a song you might not get at the first place, cause later on you might love it.
    I totally get All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye and Do You Know Me now. Maybe i didn't in the first place, can't remember.
    A lot of people think Who Says is about getting stoned, but it's about being yourself and not thinking so much...
    Love you Johnnyboy.



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