review: john mayer’s born and raised

This entry has taken me about two weeks to get done, I kid you not. This album was one that I’ve been looking forward to this year, as last year my lovely Matt-s (Matt Nathanson, Matt Wertz, and Mat Kearney) all released albums, and this year it’s Mayer. It’s finally June, and it feels like there was really little promotional work done for this album, and you still don’t hear these songs on local radio. But after about a month of having been playing over and over on my iPod in its entirety, I’ve grown to like this album a lot. It’s full of heartache and sorrow and initially made me wonder how changed a man has John Mayer become, but then I decided that it wasn’t so bad, and he’s fine. He’ll be just fine.

1. Queen of California

Good opening song. This sets the mood and tone for the whole album quite well. It’s easy-listening, and the beats in the background creep up on you and can lull you to sleep, it’ll make you think about the road you’re on. I know it’s probably because I’ve seen the lyric video so many times now, but this is a good car-song I think. I don’t drive my own car, but this is quite the sing-a-long song while in a car. The lyrics grow on you, and even though some of the references are beyond me purely because I’m a 90’s kid, I can still appreciate the references. The riffs in the middle feel good. They’re perky, which is strange, because the song has a muted feel to it, which also mellows it down a lot. I think that’s what this song is. It’s muted happiness. Which, all things considered, is a great form of happiness. The music at the end always keeps me head-bobbing and it’s really lulling!

2. Age of Worry

This is my favourite song on the whole album. The minute I had this playing for the first time, the simplicity of this whole song just got to me. The idea of the song is brilliant, it’s something we could all do with these days. It works if you’re heartbroken, it works if you’re not heartbroken (or not yet). I have to say this whole song, every single word in it, it gets to me, but the bits about “Know your fight is not with them/Yours is with your time here/Dream your dreams but don’t pretend/Make friends with what you are” and the bit that comes right after that about “Give your heart then change your mind/You’re allowed to do it/’Cause God knows it’s been done to you/And somehow you got through it” There’s something about those stanzas, it’s clearly coming from experience, and not just bad ones. You get the sense that you know, even after all the mess that’s heartbreak and everything, when you’re alone on your own, that’s not really a bad thing. Sometimes it’s great to be alone. But the essential idea of “Age of Worry” is brilliant. We live in days where we’re constantly judged by people, people we don’t even know, because they just follow us somewhere on the Internet. We worry what someone’s going to think, worry about whether “they” will like it. Even if it’s a good thing, we worry. Sometimes I do get a little exhausted just wondering who I’m trying to please by being so intensely connected on various websites and applications and social media outlets. Building your heart an army reminds me of Heartbreak Warfare, but this is nothing like it. This song feels good mostly because it’s going on and on about it being alright to just be angry, and yell, and get sad, and feel lonely, and feel a little bit awesome, and basically have emotions when people sometimes make you feel like you’re not supposed to.

3. Shadow Days

Being the first single off the album, this was the first song I heard from this album, and I actually first heard the minute long snippet John Mayer had posted on his tumblr account. In that single minute of music, I wondered what was Mayer doing going so folk-country, and honestly my first reaction to the song was one of disbelief that this was what Mayer had come to, and I mostly wanted to punch him. I don’t think it’s really in his place to sing about being a good man with a good heart. The more I listened to it though, it became clear to me that this is pretty much a no-nonsense, stepping out of the shadows, apology for being a right dick. I don’t agree with some of the things he’s saying here, but you know, I can roll with it. This isn’t one of my favourites at all. I like the riffs, though. I feel like the best apology to people and the public would be a musical piece in an Explosions in the Sky/ Your Hand In Mine style. Music heals, yes, but uh, I’d have preferred you apologise with music without the words. I love your music Mayer, and I love lots of things about you (like your sense of humour, and your sheer eloquence sometimes) but there are lines, and you’ve gone past them a lot as well.

4. Speak For Me

So after that comes this wonderful piece that just picks up really well from where Shadow Days left off . The idea of this song is something everyone can relate to. That’s what makes it so easy to like. There’s something really uplifting about the lines “Show me something I can be/Play a song that I can sing/Make me feel as I am free/Someone come speak for me”. This is the kind of honesty in lyrics that I can appreciate. This is a really matter-of-fact song. Again, the musical interlude is one that calms me down. I don’t think he needs to repeat it four times that he’s “not mad about it”, I’m pretty sure we get that by this point. I also like the idea of celebrating broken things.The musical interlude has this great feeling of movement. You can pretty much hear the wheels moving really smoothly under you as you leave all the crappy stuff behind. It’s a song about moving forward.

5. Something Like Olivia

This is the song that I was waiting for on the album. Just by the opening chords, you can tell this song’s a glimpse of the Mayer from Continuum,or even Heavier Things. I always feel that songs with names always feel a little too personal for my liking, but there’s something also kind of sweet about it. Whether or not there’s a real Olivia, this song brings some upbeat peppy-ness that the album needs, which also brings back the Blues-playin’ Mayer that I adore. Really simple lyrics, but the music carries the song all the way, which is fine with me.  I love the confession that “if Olivia herself were at my door/I’d have to say I’d let her in” because there’s no fooling yourself with thinking that you can forget about someone just like that, is there?

6. Born and Raised

“Then all at once it gets hard to take/It gets hard to fake what I won’t be/Cause one of these days I’ll be born and raised/And it’s such a waste to grow up lonely”

The titular song. The harmonica is wonderful, and it’s something I don’t really expect from Mayer, so that’s great. The chorus, that’s the whole song basically. The more I hear this song, I feel like there are lyrics unsaid in the music. You can kind of let your thoughts run while that music’s playing, and whatever’s in your head, those are the lyrics that belong there. The only other place I really remember hearing the phrase “Born and Raised” is in Adele’s Someone Like You (not sure why I wanted to mention this, but I felt it was worth pointing out. Adele has actually opened for John Mayer). Everyone has moments when they’re just exhausted and want to give up, and this is that song they want to hear. Yes it’s kind of negative, but it’s the kind of negative that picks you up. It’s like Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens in that sense (in that the song’s about cancer, but still somehow ends up on “happy”playlists everywhere) This is a nice song to fall asleep to.

7.If I Ever Get Around To Living

This song reminds me of something from Room for Squares. He does go back in time, looking on stuff he’s done, before he got any tattoos, and it has a vibe that really reminds me of Mayer from Squares. Again, the idea that we’re not living the lives we want to lead becomes obvious. It’s always for someone else, to please other people. This song  vaguely reminds me of the Who Says music video. I imagine Mayer lounging around in his apartment and just chilling, on his own. You can actually hear his voice sounding kind of different here. It’s rough around the edges, and it made me a little sad when I first picked up on it. “You are hiding in your mind/Working all the time/Trying to make it better than you got it/And you’ve been spending all your time searching for a sign/That’s never gonna look the way you want it” is something I like a lot.

8.Love Is A Verb

I didn’t like this upon first hear either. I think it works, though, in line with the whole album; about it being introspective and having realisations about life and what you’ve been doing. Mayer hasn’t quite done a song like this, or atleast it’s never made it to albums, and that’s exactly what makes it also kind of lovely. Mayer enjoy surprising us, and he says this in his Where The Light Is DVD, that he likes surprising us because we feel like yeah fine, we know Mayer, when we obviously don’t. So it’s up to him to tell us to stick it, and give us something that’s completely unexpected. Love Is A Verb gets stuck in your head really, really easily. I love the layering with the lines “you gotta show (show-show-show-show-showwwww) me that love is a verb” In the end, all is good, and this song is pretty lovely.

9.Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967

I was curious about this from the minute I saw it on the tracklisting. It starts out like what I mentioned earlier, like an Explosions in the Sky piece. It tells a story so beautifully, it’s kind of breathtaking. I have read reviews where people say they have no words to express the sheer work of art this song is. I enjoy a good saxophone as well, so that’s a major plus. It’s calming, yet unsettling at the same time. I could play this song over and over again, and find myself a blubbering mess after about three listens. And I’d still be listening to it. This is an intriguing story. This song reeks of desolation, it makes me want to hug someone and just try fixing something broken. It goes beyond just the story, and that’s something rather special. Again, in some strange way, this song still manages to remain somewhat uplifty than what it seems like. This is song writing at it’s best, I think. It is such a close tie to pick, my favourite song off the album, but it would most definitely be either Age of Worry, or this.

10.Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey

The harmonica! Bring on the folk! First place I heard this was a video on Youtube from a concert Mayer did at Hotel Cafe in LA where he was so-called, testing out material. Mayer called it his “Drinking Song”, and though that sets it up to be something really sad, it’s a really good song. Unlike some other songs I’ve mentioned earlier, I could take the music out of this one, and just listen to Mayer’s voice. It carries on its own in this song.”Walking home with no one left/Speak softly underneath my breath/Hey world, you ain’t seen nothing yet/Great, now it’s raining” Those lines make me chuckle, and at the same time, they actually make your heart pang a little. Dreaming of somebody missing you, that’s something too.

11.A Face To Call Home

“Little by little, inch by inch/We built a yard with a garden in the middle of it/And it ain’t much, but it’s a start/You got me swaying right along to the song in your heart” This chorus lulls you to sleep. It’s soft, it’s mellow, it’s hopeful. Everyone wants a place to go back to, where they can feel at peace, you know. I like to believe that home isn’t necessarily where you’re from, but it’s where you’re at your happiest. It doesn’t mean you need to have lots of people around you, just that it’s the place where you know you can go to when you need a break from everything else, and be truly happy there. There’s a bit of this that sounds a lot like a song from Heavier Things.

12.Born and Raised (Reprise)

This is a cute song. It’s got such a folksy feel to it that keeps it upbeat and ends the album on a positive note. Head bobbing, swaying, whatever you might do, it won’t keep you feeling too sullen or moody. But you might wonder just what you endured in the past hour or so, because it’s pretty much an emotional rollercoaster.

************

One song I’m sad didn’t make it to the album is Portable Heart. It’s a gorgeous song, and in the live version I’ve heard, Mayer goes on a little spiel about owning “one key to my house, and nineteen keys to storage spaces”, and it’s just such an interesting realisation.It’s incredibly true, and it takes a special kind of mind to think of things from everyday life like this, and turn them into music and songs complete with lyrics. He also mentions about looking online to buy something, and then realising that he already has it, but it’s hiding at the back of a storage space. John Mayer can be pretty adorable when he doesn’t try very hard.

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