John Mayer: BATTLE STUDIES

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Latter-day guitar virtuoso or wisecracking Twitter celebrity, John Mayer is certainly a divisive force in popular culture nowadays. Here is a talented musician whose forays into acoustic pop earlier this decade resulted in a fervent teen-female fan base addicted to "Your Body Is a Wonderland." Then along came 2006's Continuum, a legitimately accomplished blues-rock record that earned Mayer comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. As things stand, his latest effort falls somewhere between these two polemics: While Battle Studies is classy and a fun listen, its contents are hardly revelatory.

As ambitious as its title might seem, Battle Studies is little more than the sum of its parts. Opener "Heartbreak Warfare" conjures images of war and lost love amid shimmering guitar soundscapes, setting a tone of somber introspection. The album then dissolves into a smattering of typical Mayer bittersweets, ranging from enjoyable pop ballads ("Half of My Heart," "Perfectly Lonely") to tracks that don't live up to their promising openings ("Friends, Lovers or Nothing," "Assassins"). In the end, folksy single "Who Says" and Robert Johnson cover "Crossroads" emerge as the strongest cuts.

It's no stretch to say that Battle Studies captures Mayer entering a fascinating stretch of his career, even as he shies away from pushing the envelope much further. Whether he remains a pop hit-maker or continues to forge a legacy as one of blues music's last standing wunderkinds remains to be seen. Not that it matters. In the wake of Continuum's beautiful transparency, Battle Studies is a sequel that plays it safe. The result is a collection of fleeting pleasures from a slowly maturing artist: pleasurable indeed, but fleeting nonetheless.






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