No, seriously. Stop Laughing.
For the past decade, John Mayer has been one of the most frustrating figures in music. Much like an athlete with an attitude problem, Mayer has all the talent in the world, but he’s never been able to not suck. He can shred like a motherfucker, but he chooses to put out wuss-rock for 16-year-old girls who think Maroon 5 is too edgy. He’s had a few tolerable singles along the way, but he hasn’t come close to living up to his potential.
Mayer’s latest studio album Born And Raised is easily the best album of his career, and it may win over some of his harshest critics. Is it the electric blues masterpiece we’d all like to see him make just before he chokes to death on his own vomit? No, it has the same relaxed, mellow feel of his earlier stuff, but rather than sounding like James Taylor, or Eric Clapton at his dead-son-dullest, he aims for Harvest-era Neil Young, and it works.
In early 2010, Mayer gave a now-legendary interview with Playboy in which he tried too hard to be funny, and made an ass of himself. The most memorable folly was his “David Duke cock” remark, his reason for not dating black women (which, to be fair, is a pretty odd question). Mayer solidified his role as one of many national douchebags with his racist penis, and while he doesn’t address the matter directly, he certainly hints at it. On the lead single, “Shadow Days,” he suggests that the mini shit-storm affected him, saying that he “had a rough time, had a rough start.” You can only be so sympathetic towards a millionaire who screwed himself with his own racist penis, but at the same time, we all say dumb shit and make bad jokes about “Farrakhan vaginas,” right? How long should we really stay mad at him?
Elsewhere, things are a bit more relaxed. “Love Is A Verb” is the kind of song that would seem overly sappy coming from Jason Mraz, but somehow works in Mayer’s hands because his life’s dark side has been well-chronicled. “Walt Grey’s Submarine Test, 1967″ is pure whimsy, and gives us an idea of what a Bob Dylan/Brian Wilson collaboration might sound like — coming from a guy you instinctively want to punch in the face. Through the dreary times, Mayer is at least smiling a little bit, and he doesn’t care that you want to punch him in the face.
The overall tone of the album is still fairly grim, though. “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey” describes a man developing a drinking problem, which he insists is just a phase. Mayer doesn’t say if he’s referring to himself, or if it’s merely a character study, but it certainly gets its point across.
“If I Ever Get Around To Living” is a familiar rock star lament. When Mayer went around having all that wild sex with amusement parks, if I got that right, he forgot to actually do anything meaningful with his time (“meaningful” being totally subjective here), Again, it’s hard to feel too bad for him, but he’s basically saying the same thing that Rivers Cuomo said on “Tired Of Sex.” While the tales you’ve heard of groupie debauchery are true, they aren’t very fulfilling (say the dudes who’ve had so much of it they’re now bored).
Mayer confronts his darkest thoughts on this album, and it makes for a fascinating listen. Much like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s a portrait of a man dealing with the knowledge that he’s turned himself into a pariah. With each track, you find yourself understanding the guy more, and not wanting to punch him in the face so much. Whether John Mayer is “a good man, with a good heart” (as he claims on “Shadow Days”) is up for debate, but on Born And Raised, he makes it abundantly clear that he is a good musician with a good album.
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