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John Mayer: Born and Raised
Different as they may seem in the mainstream, blues and pop music have some common elements in . John Mayer has succeeded in straddling a perfect balance between both genres with the four albums he has under his belt, combining slick blues riffs and versatile pop vocals. This mesh of music genres has so far characterised his style, until he seemingly decided to go country.
Born and Raised is Mayer’s fifth album and it seems to suffer from an identity crises; just looking at the long-haired cowboy version of John Mayer on the album sleeve makes you wonder what happened. Mayer’s previous songs may have verged on folk-rock, but the leap towards country that the album takes off with is a brave move.
That being said, any confusion about Mayer’s approach is diminished after the intro; stunning lyrics and captivating musicality quickly remind us that the Connecticut born musician is here to stay.
To sing about broken hearts and childhood memories is one thing, but to sell the tortured artist routine through a country song requires a lot more credibility. The early released single ‘Shadow Days’, a pop ballad that takes the tone of my-life-struggles-are-finally-getting-better is a solid song, but come's off as a bit cheesy.
Luckily, the rest of the album only gets better from there. ‘Age of Worry’ is a guitar-based track with interesting melody and lyrics; ‘Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967’ recounts the story of a man who ’With a will to work hard and a library card/ He took a homemade fan blade/ One-man submarine ride’ – the song uses creative lyrics and quiet marching beats well to its advantage.
While some tracks may need a couple of listens to grow on you, others instantly catch on, quickly becoming favourites. ‘A Face to Call Home’ is one of those songs, especially towards the end which features the only Mayer-style electric guitar solo on the album. The title track ‘Born and Raised’ comes a close second, though the dive down into slow, country ballad is distinctively different to the rest of the album.
With vocals like Mayer’s, it’s hard to really judge an album by its cover, even if you don’t like country. Who says we have to categorise songs in genres anyway? What really counts is the fact that Born and Raised is vibrant, catchy and actually quite heartfelt. If you liked his previous slow-tempo songs like ‘Gravity’, then you ought to give Born and Raised a chance.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?