Can anyone else recount Jim Morrison’s metamorphosis in Paris when he changed from the erotically charged Lizard King to the hideaway poet with the beard and beer belly? Sick of being identified as a sex-symbol, Morrison sought to be recognized as a poet so he decided to look like one. Could it be that John Mayer is similarly rejecting his pretty-boy crooner image so that his fans can take him more seriously? Realistically speaking though, I highly doubt that the large volume of shrieking fan girls will dramatically dissipate after the release of ‘Born and Raised’, and I’m sure that Mayer is aware of this. Nevertheless, I highly commend him for shaking up his fans with his new shoulder-length hair and beard, because I think we all knew that somewhere beneath that baby face lies a man who has a story to tell.
Mayer’s latest album is a confessional one. This time, however, he’s not overtly confessing the details of his love life but rather imparting the wisdom that he’s gathered throughout what seems to have been a rocky few years for him. Shadow Days‘s opening lines perfectly expresses the life-lessons that Mayer has learned: “Did you know that you could be wrong but swear you’re right? Some people been known to do it all their lives. But you find yourself alone just like you found yourself before. Like I found myself in pieces on the hotel floor…” Mayer learns from his shadow days, as he also does in Speak for Me, what he needs to do to move on: “What a drag to know, I have to learn to let it go…”
Mayer’s album seems to portray a man with a desire to leave his dark and lonely days behind with hopes to start life anew. The track Born and Raised conveys an optimism for a change that will come when it’s least expected: “So ride on up, take your place and show your face to the morning. ‘Cause on of these days, you’ll be born and raised and it all comes without warning.”
One of the tracks that stood out for me, as I’m sure it did for other listeners who picked up this album, is Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967. This song showcases Mayer’s story-telling skills as he portrays the story of Walt Grace, a motivated man who wanted to escape his current life and explore a new place. Despite everyone’s cynicism, Walt Grace braved the raving sea and became a hero with his homemade one-man submarine. This is certainly the kind of song you would sing to a crowd of children to encourage them to ignore negative criticism and to continue reaching for something better. It’s a lesson for all of us too, whether we are young or old.
Now, I initially believed that the mid-tempo range of the album was it’s only flaw. Fans of the blues will recognize Mayer as one of the best blues guitarists of the younger generation, and big guys like Buddy Guy, BB King, and Eric Clapton have all agreed to this. As much as I appreciate his folk and Americana inspired tunes and harmonica playing, I wanted to hear more blues licks and outrageous solos. However, over much contemplation, I’ve realized that Mayer has presented himself with humility in this album, and he clearly has little desire to be placed under the limelight. He is simply here to tell us his story.
Surely, John Mayer has more stories to tell us. Maybe his next album will touch upon the lessons he’s learned in these past few days, and that is: don’t piss off Taylor Swift.
Album review by Charmaine Santos