Redemption songs: John Mayer puts personal blunders aside, reinvents musical style

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John Mayer may not necessarily be used to words.

The 35-year-old artist has made headlines for raw, if not overtly rude, comments about race and its sexuality. But tabloid headlines aside, he came back with a comeback strong enough to remind us why we praised him in the first place.

Mayer’s sixth studio album, “Paradise Valley,” was released by Columbia and Sony on August 20, and it cannot be labeled by just one genre. He successfully mixes a variety of musical styles including folk, country and blues, attracting a large audience.

Mayer’s success began in the early 2000s with hits such as the beautiful and sensual “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Lennon inspired by “Give Peace a Chance”.

Despite topping the charts successfully, Mayer has lost a lot of respect for not hiding his dirty laundry from the public eye.

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His fall from grace included his use of the N word in a “Playboy” interview and his inability to maintain a stable relationship with women, including Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston. But despite his bad boy attitude, the artist proves on his last album that he is still the best at what he does.

The album cover for “Paradise Valley” is sentimental all-American, featuring Mayer in a blue shirt with an oversized blanket draped over his shoulders. He gazes thoughtfully into the distance, surrounded by weeds in an empty field under an overcast sky.

The opening track, “Wildfire”, is equally idealistic. Mayer sings landscapes and the beginning of a romance. The song sounds like it’s being played live, somewhere in the South, due to the nuances of familiar conversation and the intimate clatter of spoons against the knees. The Connecticut-born artist taps into the heart of southern US music with an almost southern drawl and simple yet beautiful lyrics.

“Dear Marie”, the second track on the album, was a risky addition. One of her many exes, Taylor Swift, wrote the controversial “Dear John” in 2010 as an ode to a disastrous relationship, which is said to involve Mayer. Critics raised eyebrows at his blatant words, including: “Don’t you think he’s too young to play with 19?” hinting at a big age difference like that between Mayer and her.

While “Dear Marie” probably isn’t about Swift, the song leaves a recognizable taste of lost love and the possibility of what might have been if fame hadn’t taken Mayer away from her first lover.

Other love songs include “Waitin ‘on the Day” and “Paper Doll”, in which Mayer is unmistakably a talented lyricist, likening an inconsistent woman to a paper doll and sampling from “Rock-a-bye Baby” in a more adult and jazzy style.

Her strongest song on the album is “Who You Love”, featuring lover Katy Perry. The song is haunting and melancholy, telling the age-old story of never being able to control the one you love. The song might even provide a glimpse into their actual relationship, which adds an element of mystery and juicy goodness to the celebrities. The song ends with a laugh from Perry saying, “You are the one I love.”

Another surprise artist on the album is Frank Ocean, featured on the cover version of “Wildfire”. A classic ocean tune, the song is short with multiple layers and depth. Ocean sings a Parisian girl while Mayer harmonizes gently by strumming the chords. The song is long enough that the listener will want more while telling a complex story, slightly reminiscent of Ocean’s “Acura Integurl”.

The album ends with the blues “Badge and Gun” and the Woody Guthrie-esque “On the Way Home”, which plays a part in Mayer’s task of taking the listener on a musical and spiritual journey, unraveling the pieces of his life, allowing his audience to see a side of him that we have almost forgotten exists.

Contact Elaine: [email protected]


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