John Mayer: Paradise Valley
On his sixth album, John Mayer finds himself stuck between the lite-pop of his early work and the rootsy country of his most recent, Born and Raised. Though most of the album has the twang found on his 2012 album, he seems much less committed here. Where Born and Raised was stylized so consistently it felt like a concept album of sorts, on Paradise Valley he treats his southern blues and country twang as just another tool on his tool belt. Ultimately, while this offers up a more relaxed and optimistic album, it feels inconsistent and unfocused. The lead single, “Paper Doll,” is a fine pop song that would fit perfectly on Room For Squares or Battle Studies, but feels out of place when followed by the JJ Cale cover, “Call Me The Breeze.” And the short, Frank Ocean-led reworking of the opening track, “Wildfire,” feels as unnecessary as Mayer’s own short and strange appearance on Ocean’s Channel Orange.
The songs on Paradise Valley that succeed the most are the ones that seem unconcerned about the style games. Born and Raised worked well as an album because it went for its idea 100%, but when there’s not that level of commitment, the songs that try the least sound the best. The light ballad duet with Katy Perry, “Who You Love,” is the best example of this. Mayer falls back on his strengths as a guitar player and writer of simple, direct songs, while Perry’s voice sounds honest and warm.
If anything, this album seems like Mayer trying to claw his way back to the adult contemporary style that made him so successful in the first place. And though this falls far from the mark in that regard, hopefully his next LP will see the full return to pop for Mayer.