Album Review

John Mayer "Born and Raised"

Chad W. Lutz
I’ve been a John Mayer fan for a long time, even before Continuum (2006) made him cool for guys to like. I used to sit around my high school yearbook class and discuss the finer points of Heavier Things (2003) and Room for Squares (2001) with my fellow, female, yearbook peers.

That was back when my appreciation for pop music was at an all-time high (or low - however it strikes your fancy). But when I learned about John Mayer’s new album release, I wasn’t as excited as I thought I might be. In fact, it was just the opposite.

It’s taken me nearly five weeks to get around to doing this review. Every time I sit down to listen to Born and Raised, John’s fifth studio release, I’m reminded of 2009’s compilation with Taylor Swift. Any inclination to begin listening to what John Mayer may have churned out in this new addition to his catalogue fades, and fades quickly.

Then I do a little research and find images of John Mayer – the same John Mayer who sports a tat sleeve, tours with B.B. King, and dates Jennifer Anniston – wearing a cowboy hat, chewing on straw, and licking his eyelids to big Montana sky. No idea what happened there. But I did finally give the album a listen, and in its tracks found a musician almost prophetically looking for something – A sound? A challenge? – but ultimately coming up short.

Released in collaboration with Columbia and Sony Music on May 22, 2012, Born and Raised showcases a John Mayer we’ve never seen before, aside from the ten-gallon hats and snake-skin boots. Known before for sultry acoustic play, and more recently for bluesy, electric, pop and rock, John Mayer continues to push the musical envelope, exploring styles similar to Battle Studies (2009).

Born and Raised comes in at 46:25. The album drags horridly, until the fourth or fifth song. The first three songs are nothing but slow, light acoustic numbers featuring sleepy slide guitar. The fourth song, Speak for Me (3:45), was one of only two that stood out to me and borrows from Room for Squares days. I was reminded of Neon as the light, bouncy, and overly catchy melody of the track played through my headphones. The album continued to pick up with Something Like Olivia (3:01), another throwback to John-Mayer-of-old. Featuring heavy doses of organ, electric guitar, bass, and drums, it’s the kind of tune you might find blaring out across a busy boardwalk or smiling through a stereo, lakeside, on a hot summer day.

However, the rest of the album sounds like an attempt at a Neil Young LP that is washed, forced, and unbelievable considering the source. Throughout the thirteen tracks, John Mayer sounds lost. The music is technically sound but the songs lack the punch brought by his other albums. Songs like Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey (4:39) seem terribly out of place for an individual whose best known works include soft, romantic odes to the beauty of the body, the relationship between loving parents and their kids, and a generation, frustrated, waiting for their time to change the world. While the album is moderately listenable and features a couple songs which hold promise and potential, Born and Raised, overall, is lacking.