He may be best known for his accessible, easy-on-the-ear pop hits. But John Mayer's fourth album, Battle Studies, takes a bit of a different direction—toward folksy blues—inspired by his friendships with blues legends B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
According to Mayer, Battle Studies' title refers to lessons he's learned from life's rough patches. "It incorporates a lot of the lessons, a lot of the observations and a little bit of advice," he said in concert footage that's made its way onto YouTube. "Like a heartbreak handbook." He should know. He's become famous for loving and leaving and loving and getting left. (Among his recent high-profile lovers are Jennifer Anniston, Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Love Hewitt.)
So does Mayer's latest offer good counsel? Or does it invite listeners into an unhealthy combat zone?
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
"Crossroads" finds Mayer praying for guidance ("Fell down on my knees/Asked the Lord for mercy/ … Said, 'Help me if you please'"). "War of My Life" shows him grappling with his dark past, something he encourages others to do as well ("I'm in the war of my life/At the door of my life/ … Got no choice but to fight till it's done/ … Fight on, everyone"). On "Heartbreak Warfare," Mayer suggests that romantic pettiness is useless.
"Half of My Heart" describes a woman who's renewed the singer's faith in his ability to love someone. He also realizes (if briefly) that selfishness in relationships won't cut it anymore ("Lonely was the song I sang/Till the day you came/Showing me another way"). On "All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye," Mayer refuses to repeat the cycle of break-up/make-up drama.
"Heartbreak Warfare" depicts love as an explosive no-man's-land, especially when an ex verbally stabs him by mentioning her new love. "Half of My Heart" alludes to a shotgun wedding. "Perfectly Lonely" is what Mayer wants to be since he says women become controlling ("I don't belong to anyone and nobody belongs to me"). But "Assassin" shows him as the calculating one, trying to seduce women without worrying about whether he's in love or not. "You get in, you get done and then get gone," he sings, "You never leave a trace or show your face."
"Edge of Desire" gives a nod to lust and compromise ("Just come over and lie here with me/ … I want you so bad I'll go back on the things I believe"). "Who Says" is a tribute to Mayer's "right" to smoke marijuana ("Who says I can't get stoned/Turn out the lights and the telephone"), never mind that it makes it easier for him to use women ("Fake love for an hour or so/ … I don't remember you looking any better/But then again I don't remember you").
None of his love songs—some of which depict partners waking up together—allude to marriage. Several tracks mention alcohol. "Heartbreak Warfare" includes an s-word.
Some of Mayer's lyrics pine for a perfect love. In others, he seems to have grown too cynical to care. Perhaps that helps explain why on Battle Studies sex often requires no commitment, affection is easily forgotten and being in love is synonymous with inflicting pain. And that's when Mayer allows his emotions to get involved at all, mind you.
Incidentally, Mayer's public life of late has echoed the combative subject matter in his songs. In a recent, well-publicized interview, John's racy revelations about former lovers, sexual encounters and racial preferences ignited a firestorm of controversy he has struggled to contain.