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Album review: John Mayer’s ‘Paradise Valley’

Despite his popularity, the blues guitarist fails to fully tap into his wealth of talent with this latest release.

By Joe Cristo | Aug. 21, 2013

Tags: Music


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John Mayer has always frustrated me. He's a gifted melodist who can play guitar with blues legends like B.B. King, yet he wastes any semblance of talent on Eagles-infused soft-rock pedantics.

His tunes are, and should be, relegated to the speaker system in a Chili's bathroom — a place that is devoid of any critical analysis and where music is played mostly for background noise.

But, somehow, Mayer always has a knack for capturing a large audience that spans all age groups and all walks of life, so Paradise Valley is one of 2013's most highly anticipated LPs.

The first single from the album, “Paper Doll,” focuses on an admittedly beautifully written melody laid over a sparse, airy accompaniment. While the melody does very little to move away from his past work (even bearing a striking resemblance to "Your Body Is a Wonderland"), it still fits perfectly in Mayer's more mature sound.

The rest of the album moves along like a merry-go-round of mixed creative endeavors. Mayer gambles on each track, and the album plays more like a hit-or-miss project than one with a cohesive sound or aesthetic.

Tracks like "Dear Marie" and "Wildfire" are high points to be celebrated here. Some of the songs work extremely well in the typical Mayer fashion: overwrought with a faux-pop sensibility that diminishes as the album wears on. Each track has its enjoyable moments.

But even if Paradise Valley is decidedly uneven and his lyrics almost always border on cheesy, it's indisputable that Mayer has crafted some of the most pop-melody laden songs we’ve heard on this side of 2013.

Paradise Valley should be listened to with a little context in mind: John Mayer is one of the few “rock” musicians left. But he really isn't all that “rock.”

There is no rebellion either lyrically or musically from the typical pop standard formula or impassioned pleas for peace of change.

Really, it's just stripped down, minimalist pop songs written by a master guitar player for consumption by a public who should, just by comparison, enjoy it.

MOVE gives Paradise Valley 3 out of 5 stars.

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