John Mayer’s Paradise Valley continues where his 2012 release, Born and Raised, left off – if you thought Mayer may have returned to the pop sensibilities of Room for Squares or Heavier Things, you will be sorely disappointed. However, for those listeners who have become accustomed to Mayer’s humble country undertones (or for those who felt that this was a much deserved change in musical direction), the singer-songwriter delivers an incredibly warm albeit uneven album replete with sing-along melodies and smooth vocals.
“’Cause a little bit of summer makes a lot of history,” Mayer swoons on the opening track and single, “Wildfire,” which makes you feel like you are enjoying a summer bonfire with friends and family as the sounds of a casual get-together play throughout the background. However, Mayer’s duet with Katy Perry on “Who You Love” finds Mayer reverting to repetitive choruses akin to his 2007 single “Say,” although it is an equally empowering song about true love: “Oh you can’t make yourself stop dreaming / Who you’re dreaming of.” The tracks “Badge and Gun” and “I Will Be Found (Lost At Sea)” display Mayer’s knack for vocal melodies, but fall victim to cliché lyrics and are perhaps unintentionally satirical: “I’m a little lost at sea / I’m a little birdie in a big ol’ tree.” Fortunately, these pitfalls are reconciled by Frank Ocean’s appearance on the second “Wildfire” entitled track. Although likely to be passed off as name dropping filler, Ocean’s poetic lyrics of a lover’s contemplated suicide coupled with the minimalistic instrumentation and background forest noises will undoubtedly prove to be the emotional climax of album for many listeners.
Mayer’s Paradise Valley is an album honest and true to the new Mayer – a singer-songwriter in full stride who is not afraid to write out his true feelings in vulnerably stripped-down songs. Paradise Valley will not win Mayer any new fans who did not care for Born and Raised (or for his music in general), but it is nonetheless a worthwhile listen and a testament to Mayer’s versatility as a musician and an artist.
Roland’s Rating: 7/10
Key Tracks: “Wildfire,” “Paper Doll”