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The Critics Corner: Albums
Battle Studies
John Mayer- Battle Studies
Heartbreak and love dominant themes in latest effort
Name: "Battle Studies"
Label: Columbia
Release Date: November 17, 2009
My rating: 4.8 out of 5

Review written by: Valerie Roder

As a zealous watch collector, John Mayer knew it was time to release a new album.  A long three years since Continuum, Mayer's fourth studio album, Battle Studies, was released on November 17, 2009.  Unlike the multi-themed Continuum, Battle Studies focuses on one theme―the battles found throughout life, mainly heartbreak and love.

John Mayer is no stranger to heartbreak.  After dating a few Hollywood starlets, such as Jessica Simpson, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, Mayer is expected to have some emotions bottled up.  Mayer uses the emotions found throughout the various stages and types of heartbreak to form his eloquent and relatable lyrics.

The album begins with the powerful track, “Heartbreak Warfare.” In this track, John Mayer takes post-breakup emotions and relates those feelings to a war by the use of the phrases “bombs are falling everywhere,” and “clouds of sulfur in the air.” The music softly begins with an orchestra tuning, and craftily cuts to the original music.  This shift dramatically adds to the post-breakup emotions Mayer wants to portray through the song.  Overall, the song is a masterpiece, and a strong opener for the album.

After “Heartbreak Warfare,” John Mayer continues the theme of heartbreak with the emotional jam, “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye.” The tone of the song is somber, and lyrically it describes the pain found in an on-and-off-again relationship.  With a a quick break for a John Mayer guitar riff, the song is perfect to turn up when you are looking for a good cry.

The third track on the album, “Half of My Heart,” moves from the sedated tempo of the second track into a melodious one featuring the teen sensation, Taylor Swift.  Mayer tactfully incorporates Swift into the track; her cameo in the chorus ,and in a small exchange of lyrics with Mayer, does not allow her to take over the track, which is a commonality for featured artists in the musical world today.  The song talks about the internal struggles of loving someone with a half-heart.

Keeping with the upbeat tracks, the album moves to the song, “Who Says.” This simple, laid-back track is John Mayer's first single off Battle Studies.  Although deemed controversial with its lyrics referencing drug use, it is a positive song with the theme of living a carefree life.  The acoustic guitar is showcased in the song, along with John Mayer's powerful voice, with little studio additions to the track.

The fifth track, “Perfectly Lonely,” brings back the unique John Mayer blues sound, and opens with a guitar riff.  Lyrically, Mayer portrays the concept of being single and contempt, although still open to finding love.  With a catchy beat and sing-along lyrics, Mayer again is successful at placing everyday, relatable feelings into a song.

The sixth track, “Assassin,” opens with a sexy synth intro, which ties to the mysterious and dark feel of the song.  John Mayer also revives the retro feel and sound of the 1980s in “Assassin.” As the strongest song on the album, “Assassin” is  an agreeable mixture of guitar riffs, drum beats, and significant lyrics, which place yet another struggle of love in song.

John Mayer returns for the second time on the album to his usual blues sound in the remake of a classic blues song, “Crossroads,” originally by Robert Johnson.  Mayer artfully remakes the song, adding his own touch in it.  “Crossroads” is one of the few songs on the album that showcases John Mayer's guitar skills in an extended electric guitar solo.

Following the blues remake comes “War of My Life,” a simple song about the battles found in overcoming fear.  The song is a great display of Mayer's vocal ability, and is the most similar to the works found on Continuum.

The album moves from a song about fear to a song about love and desire in the song, “Edge of Desire.” The instrumentals in the song are mellow, but increase in intensity in the lyrical break.  Mayer's vocals are powerful, and add to the concept of lust displayed in the song.

To continue with the soft theme, the album moves to the ethereal song, “Do You Know Me.” The guitar on the track is unlike the other songs on the album, for it has a ukulele sound.  The lyrics reflect the internal pondering that take place when daydreaming about a potential lover.

The album ends with the song “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing,” a song about the confusion found in falling in love with a friend.  Past the halfway mark, the song sounds like it ends, yet it picks back up into a repetitive lyrical rut.

Overall, John Mayer has returned with another strong album, despite a few disappointing songs.  Battle Studies is different from Continuum, for it is darker, therefore a comparison between the two albums is not viable.  In this album, Mayer successfully takes on the complex task of fusing difficult and easily relatable emotions into songs.  Because of the repetitive nature of the darkness in the songs, this album is not one for those who wish for a pick-me-up.

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