I like to treat a John Mayer album like a good thesis paper. A strong, comprehensive thesis, a nice intro and contentions, which are the songs. In Mayer's case, most contentions are strong, a couple weak ones, and a foggy conclusion that usually leaves the reader (listener) asking for more or wondering why. Take this approach to Mayer's albums, and perhaps it'll make a little bit more sense. Now, I am no harsh critic of him, but I do like to overanalyze him because it seems like no one else does. For instance, "Continuum", his last effort, had a weak ending song; whereas "Heavier Things" had a couple weak contentions. Don't get me started on how impressive his first LP was. With this in mind, "Battle Studies" is another 2009 heartbreak album. At first describing breaking up as warfare, noting the second guessing (see "Break Up" by Pete Yorn), and the desire for moving on and closure.
"Heartbreak Warfare" is a U2-esque love-meets-anthem song. It seems to continue the same atmosphere as "Continuum" but with more narration like his first. At first, this album may be dull and unimpressive (save "Half of My Heart), but this album took a few listens to get into. The lead single, "Who Says" is a cheap knock off of himself on "Stop this Train", and is overall unimpressive. "Half of My Heart" is the diary of a conflicted lover. It has the maturity that this album is demonstrating, but with the naive attitude or delivery of "Room for Squares". Taylor Swift makes a publicity appearance singing back up. I can indentify with this song so well because it describes nearly word for word how I felt about my previous relationship. "Half of my heart's got a right mind to tell you that half of my heart won't due" shows that part of him has an idea of right and round. But "half of my heart is the part of a man who's never truly loved anything" suggests that despite love, success, and relationships, that Mayer has remained a self-sufficient, independent young man. This idea is continued on "Perfectly Lonely", perhaps in a more jovial way.
Those who are waiting for the "Your Body is a Wonderland" love songs of the past, will be disapointed to know that there is nothing even close. "Battle Studies" finds Mayer questioning love, enjoying the single life, overall longing for something more, but still a little resiliant and stubborn despite being wisened. The tone of "All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye" shows a small amount of remorse, but generally women and girlfriends in particular are not held in high regard. "Assassin" is a dark, well-produced song about malicious plans to break someone's heart. "Do You Know Me" is incredibly dark and melodic. The guitar work on that track is really impressive. It also highlights the other half of his heart that was sure that love couldn't work at all. "Friends, Lovers, or Nothing" is exactly the ending I was hoping he would grow out of. It leaves the listener with no closure, perhaps like Mayer in the relationships described herein.
"Crossroads" is barely forgivable. "Assassin" is interesting; par, I would say. It does point out something interesting though: falling for someone without completely giving yourself, only to fall and realize that the other person was doing the exact same thing. "War of my Life" is the perfectly reserved, quaint song that this album needed. It adds a little air to the heavy subject matter. "If fear hasn't killed me yet, than nothing will". Lyrically, this album may be his strongest, most comprehensive, and pathos jerking yet. He seems to know exactly what to say, and his narrations of the broken heart are strikingly spot on.
Mayer has always been growing. "Room for Squares" may have seemed impossible to grow from, but he did. He's constantly grown deeper and smart and wiser. His music gets more tricky and more hook-filled. And overall, he gets more and more impressive. Although this album takes awhile to love, you will love it. I don't mean to say that this album is flawless, but it is impressive. As good as he is at describing heart break, whether "Friends, Lovers, or Nothing" demonstrates any closure on John's part, with "there I just said it, I'm scared you'll forget about me", you be the judge.
Key tracks: "Half of My Heart", "Do You Know Me"