John Mayer’s new album, Battle Studies, leaves teenage girls wounded and wishing

Until last year, I had heard John Mayer’s music on the radio and thought his songs were pleasant, mediocre adult-alternative material, but nothing more. But after being exposed to a few of his other songs, such as “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” and “Belief” from Mayer’s 2006 album Continuum, I decided to take a listen to the rest of Continuum and found myself quickly becoming a fan of Mayer’s impressive guitar work and creative songwriting. Needless to say, I was excited to hear about the release of Mayer’s most recent album, Battle Studies, which was released November 17. The new album definitely reflects changes in Mayer’s musical style; he continues to leave more of his acoustic sound behind, choosing instead to bring more polished, heavily engineered tracks to the forefront. Listeners who enjoy songs of Mayer that have more of a bare-bones acoustic style and were hoping to hear more of the same thing may possibly be disappointed upon listening to Battle Studies. The only song on the album that has this acoustic-folk feeling is “Who Says”, the first single off of the album. Mayer also ventures in a new direction by bringing in a guest vocalist on one of his songs for the first time. The song “Half of My Heart”, features none other than country-pop singer Taylor Swift; luckily, Mayer stays true to his musical style in this song and manages to avoid sounding too country in this mid-tempo track. Fans of Taylor Swift should be warned, however – Swift’s presence in “Half of My Heart” is barely noticeable; she provides subtle background vocals during the chorus and sings a grand total of 3 lines, which is actually nothing more than the same line repeated 3 times. The rest of the song’s composition, with its instantly catchy melody, manages to make up for this. Through all the new territory covered in Battle Studies, there are still familiar elements in the album. Mayer still writes about the usual subject matter – romance and the heartbreak that comes with it – but he manages to bring originality and skill to an old topic. His lyrics continue to be well-written and clever with creative metaphors. One prime example is the song “Assassin”, where Mayer parallels his ventures in love with a storyline of being a well-trained killer. However, one disappointment within the songwriting was lack of a social message within the lyrics of Battle Studies. Continuum had a fair number of tracks concerned with social issues, such as “Waiting on the World to Change” and “Belief,” but Battle Studies has nothing along these lines, choosing instead to focus on problems in love as opposed to problems in the world. Despite the lack of social commentary, there is definitely no lack of passion and skill in Mayer’s vocals and guitar playing. The songs “Edge of Desire” and the especially strong track “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing” show off Mayer’s vocal range, as he reaches falsetto in some places. Not only does Mayer have talent in singing, he sings earnestly and manages to make the listener feel his emotion as he recounts his struggles with heartbreak. There were a few tracks (“War of My Life”, “Do You Know Me”) that not even Mayer’s talent could rescue. “War of My Life” started off sounding like it had potential, but its repetitiveness quickly made the song boring and it took most of my willpower not to press the “skip” button. When I first got a hold of Battle Studies, I was unsure of what to expect. Beforehand, I had heard talk about Mayer moving in a new musical direction, and as I began listening to the album, I hoped that the new album would not stray too far from the style of Continuum. I was pleased to discover that my wish had been fulfilled for the most part – while Mayer’s music has changed, it was not a drastic jump from Continuum and was certainly not a change for the worse. On the best tracks of the album, Mayer truly shines – he continues to put out the same quality songwriting, vocal talent, and guitar skill as before. However, in a few key areas and a couple lackluster tracks, Battle Studies falls short – perhaps cautious fans would be better off picking and downloading (legally, of course) a few choice tracks instead of having to fight through the battle of listening to the entire album.