John Hancock

“Sell your soul for an autograph.” -“Big Bang Baby” by Stone Temple Pilots

There is no way for me to count all the concerts I’ve been to throughout my lifetime. But there have been a lot. Most of them were during my high school years and almost exclusively involved Christian alternative rock bands that most people weren’t familiar with like Plank Eye and The Supertones. But to me, they were famous rock stars. And I got their autographs. And that made me cool.

It’s a funny thing as a 15 year-old kid to ask a band member for their autograph. Because unless I had a question to ask about the meaning of a particular song or unless I generically told them what a huge fan I was like everyone else in the merchandise line, there wasn’t much else to say.

This year on Valentine’s Day I was at Fresh Market buying some flowers for my wife.  I noticed that most of the customers were graviting towards the back of the store.  The rumor was that Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman were sharing lunch at the store’s deli.

I laughed at all the crazy people caring so much about the celebrities there.  Just to make sure it wasn’t a hoax, I journeyed to the back.  It was really them.  Enjoying their private lunch as if no one was around.  As if no one was gawking, whispering, and calling their friends.  And before I knew it, I had snapped a blurry picture of Keith and Nicole with my camera phone.  And they both happened to look up and see me do it.

I realized I was adding to the noise, at that moment.

We put celebrities on a higher plane than ourselves. Yet in the act of admiration (often infatuation and sometimes even obsession) we ironically tend to treat them as being on a lower plane than ourselves. Like a magical charm. Not exactly a human being.

While it’s our respect for their talent we admire, we equate their value to a tangible imprint. An autograph or a camera phone picture is sometimes all we really want from them when we are actually given the opportunity to speak with them as fellow human beings.

John Mayer’s Battle Studies: The Newest Installment from the Half-Jewish, Tattoo-Sleeved Guitar God

There are certain male musicians who while they seemingly have a unisex audience, it’s mainly women who are openly proud fans. Key examples: Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban.

Then there are those male musicians who seemingly have a feminine audience, yet they also earn the genuine respect of men who recognize their talent despite their charm. Key examples: Michael Buble and Jason Mraz. But the epitome of this category is none other than the 6’ 3”, tattoo-sleeved, half-Jewish, Connecticut native, John Mayer.

His most romantic songs are typically my least favorite- “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Come Back to Bed”. What draws me most to his music is a quality found in his lesser hits like “83” and “Something’s Missing”. Half nostalgic, half philosophical.

In reviewing any genre of entertainment, I can’t say any one thing is the best. I can only say what is my personal favorite. Because my favorite is simply an opinion; I am not qualified to declare what is best- that would go beyond a matter of opinion.

That being said, my favorite John Mayer album is his 2003 Heavier Things. It features the hits “Bigger than My Body”, “Daughters”, and “Clarity” (“ah whoo-ew… ah whoo-ew”). Along with its less featured songs “New Deep”, “Home Life”, “Split Screen Sadness” and “Wheel”.

The cover of this album itself perfectly captures the style and direction of the music. It represents a simple sense of timelessness, yet at the same time somehow reminds of me of Eric Clapton and/or Sting between 1988 and 1993.

I say that to say this. John Mayer’s newest album, Battle Studies, is a hybrid of two of my favorite things of his: 1) The album Heavier Things and 2) his very much underappreciated song “I Don’t Trust Myself with Loving You” from his 2006 album Continuum.

Very bluesy: “Fell down on my knees, asked the Lord for mercy, said ‘help me if you please’” (“Crossroads”).

Very jazzy: “Who says I can’t get stoned?” (“Who Says”)

Very soft rock: “I’ve got a hammer and a heart of glass- I gotta know right now which walls to smash” (War of My Life).

I decided half-way through this decade that John Mayer is incapable of releasing an album that isn’t good. I stand by that. Battle Studies is completely up to par with all his other recordings. But just like how Dave Matthews Band will never be able to top their Crash album, in my mind John Mayer will never be able to top Heavier Things.

Actually I see Battle Studies as a direct sequel (yet not necessarily a continuation) of Heavier Things. So in other words, I love it.

A year ago I posted a review of my favorite albums of 2008, and in a prophetic moment, I praised the then unknown song “People are Crazy” by Billy Currington. A few months later it was released as a single and went to #1.

Therefore, I will predict the soon-to-be hits from Battle Studies. The most obvious is the industrial-infused groovy tune “Assassins”. John has never sounded more like an African-American lead singer of an alternative rock band than he does in this song. Maybe it’s because this song has so many Michael Jackson qualities about it.

Like it was written with “Smooth Criminal”, “Dirty Diana” and “Give in to Me” in mind: “I work in the dead of night when the roads are quiet and no one is around… I’m an assassin and I had a job to do… Little did I know that girl was an assassin too.”

Another song destined to be a radio favorite is “Half of My Heart”. Perfect catchy melody. Perfect opening line: “I was born in the arms of imaginary friends.” Perfect choice of a female vocalist to do a song with: Taylor Swift.

The only downfall is that there’s not enough Taylor Swift in this song. She just does background vocals towards the end. Every time I hear it, I keep hoping the song has magically changed since the last time I heard it and that the song has become a true duet like the immaculately crafted “Lucky I’m in Love” by Jason Mraz with Colbie Caillat. Great song though: “Half of my heart is a shotgun wedding to a bride with a paper ring.”

Often when a musician or actor becomes a superstar, showing up in the tabloid magazines, the authenticity of their art suffers. Despite dating Jennifer Anniston and Jessica Simpson (to name a few) , his art hasn’t suffered (just his personal reputation). He’s still got the talent. Just as much as ever. Going beyond the rut of “the same three chords” compositions and “I miss you baby” lyrics.

And not that this takes away from his music at all, but this lifestyle definitely shows up in his song content. Like in “Perfectly Lonely”- “Had a little love but I spread it thin. Falling in her arms and out again. Made a bad name for my game ‘round town.” It’s also evident in the future hit which will inevitably be featured on several romantic comedy soundtracks, “Heartbreak Warfare”.

Gone is the charming, mysterious John Mayer from the beginning of the decade. Gone is the gentleman. Apathy and aimlessness are starting to show up in his attitude and lyrics. I don’t like his music any less because of it. But I do recognize the change.

Though this may actually be hurting him with his current single, “Who Says”, which is his lowest charting single, breaking his string of 5 consecutive Top 10 singles. This song much departs from his former classy charm, containing lyrics like this: “Call up a girl I used to know, fake love for an hour or so” and “I don’t remember you looking any better. Then again I don’t remember you”.

Not to mention the song’s constant references to marijuana use.

John Mayer is suffering from what I call “King Solomon Syndrome”. King Solomon had it all: Extreme wealth, fame, and wisdom. And 700 wives. And 300 concubines. But by the end of his life when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he said it was all meaningless. None of it made him happy.

At least at an early age, John Mayer recognizes something’s missing.

Related Post by the Same Author:

John Mayer’s Stupid Mouth  http://wp.me/pxqBU-wz

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on John Mayer, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one