Since his 2001 release, "Room for Squares," John Mayer has produced five albums that echo the ease, confidence and guitar giftedness that has become characteristic of his own unique sound. His fifth album "Paradise Valley," released Aug. 20, is no different."Paradise Valley" reflects Mayer's trend towards folk and country influences as of late. Listeners got a taste of that on his 2012 album "Born and Raised," but "Paradise Valley" has Mayer going deeper into this genre. The result is a soft rock, folk-country blend that has Mayer's distinctive croon musing about love and loss.
Although some of the songs have sadder themes – "You're No One 'Til Someone Lets You Down" – it is clear Mayer sees these gloomier topics through the lens of "Paradise."The opening track "Wildfire" just sounds cool, with Mayer singing "Tonight the moon's so bright you could drive with your headlights out / Cause a little bit of summer's what the whole year is about."The wake up moment on this album comes from Mayer's cover of "Call Me the Breeze," an upbeat folk-rock number that really livens up the album.
The most surprising part of this album comes with Katy Perry's contribution on "Who You Love." Her voice loses a little of her characteristic tone and smoothly blends with Mayer's style. In terms of Perry's career, it is a nice change.
Cohesion is not an issue with this album. Most of the tracks blend together simply because of the effortlessness of the style. It is not hard to imagine Mayer sitting around a fire, spinning the story of "Paradise" into 11 connected tracks.The tracks flow seamlessly, but it is hard to tell if that's because of Mayer's artistic genius or the fact that all of the songs actually do sound the same.
Mayer has always made what he does look easy; however, this ease leads to a certain amount of skimming over. He loses some of the differentiation that was more apparent on the heartbreak-fueled "Battle Studies."
Mayer is more mature, yes, but this also makes him a little less interesting. Musically, this album is exciting in the obvious finesse Mayer uses in his writing, but vocally, he could really use a little roughness to even out the influences in his music. "Badge and Gun" is a prime example of this. This track was written and produced so well, but Mayer's voice smoothes over what really needs to stay coarse.What is continually evident on this album is Mayer has carved out a niche for himself. He knows what he does well, so he keeps doing it. He has steered towards a folk-based sound with "Paradise," but it's still the same smooth and charming Mayer that listeners have come to expect.
There's nothing earth-shattering on this album, but its subtle undertones reveal that Mayer is maturing in his musical career. He has a different set of life experiences that now frame his writing.Despite its tendency to stay in Mayer's comfort zone, "Paradise" is still a worthwhile album. It feels like lying on your back in a boat, gently floating down a river of twang-y guitar and melodic Mayer.
A little boring, yes, but it is still paradise.