REVIEW: John Mayer’s “Paradise Valley”

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After throat surgery that could have killed his career, John Mayer is thankfully back on the musical scene with his sixth studio album, Paradise Valley.  2012’s Born And Raised had Mayer moving away from a pop/rock sound and towards a Americana/folk sound, and the trend continues on his latest collection.

The album starts off with “Wildfire”, one of his best singles that he’s ever released.  It’s an energetic summer jam that’ll have you singing and clapping along instantly. It’s the kind of song you want to jam to around a campfire.  It’s Mayer at his best. The rest of the tracks aren’t able to live up to the high of “Wildfire”, but John always releases slowburn music.  You’re not always sold on it on a first listen, but it slowly gets into your ear like an musical earworm.

I cringed at the idea that John has on-and-off girlfriend (today, they are currently “on”) Katy Perry join him on a love song called “Who You Love”.  Usually real-life lovers singing a love song makes one want to gag, but not here. It’s a ballad that’s free of theatrics and has a great hook.  It’s not a track of gushing over your love for one another, but taking a more objective look at the idea of love.

Mayer has always been a strong songwriter, and the trend continues here with thoughtful and interesting lyrics on tracks like “Paper Doll”, “Dear Marie”, “I Will Be Found (Lost At Sea)” and “You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down”.  The issue is that all the production is so mellow that it becomes boring.  Mayer seems quite comfortable in this laid-back style, but some of the tracks could use a bit more peppiness like “Wildfire”.  Just increasing the tempo on a few tracks, and adding a few more instruments (brass?) would have done wonders.  Mayer’s pinnacle album, Continuum, did a beautiful job at mixing up the sounds and rhythm of tracks while still existing wonderfully together.

Frank Ocean shows up to sing vocals on the Wildfire interlude, and it snaps you to attention as it’s something so different. The album could have used more of those surprising moments. This is still a very strong collection to Mayer’s discography.  He remains one of the best musicians out there.  Each track on its own is a solid creation.  I just wish the album as a whole got a little more wild.

Grade: B


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