MUSIC BY JOHN MAYER
John Mayer, at a pre-release event, pointed out the difference between being ‘open’ and being ‘honest’ as he saw it. Being ‘open’ is saying what comes to mind, beating boredom, trying to come off as cocky and, well, interesting in the process. Being ‘honest’, on the other hand, is baring it all – the worst of insecurities, the cruellest of self-indulgence, the most haphazard of misalignment as far from stability as possible – all in the past, though.
“Born and Raised
In half the time, I’ll be twice my age,
Better learn how to turn a page
‘cause time is strange
now I’m Born and Raised.”
You say what goes that very second inside your head, it’s a mistake. You say it a couple of years later with a tone of regret at having said it before, where regret stems from self-embarrassment than a mob-inflicted gash on relentless cheek, it becomes something else entirely, its warmth uncharacteristic of the gesture you intend to atone for.
I’ve always been fervent with whatever I’ve felt about John. He’s one of those guys, you know? “It’s better to say too much,” he once sang. “Than never to say what you need to say.” So far, he has lived by it. Who would say that? Anyone on the right side of the world would count what they bring to the table when, as it looks, John lays it all out there and takes his pick right in plain sight. The illusion, thus, is broken, more or less. It’s like having the LeMarc sequence right in the beginning, instead of the very end, of ‘Ocean’s Twelve’ if you see what I’m saying.
As eager as he’s been to share expertise, wise-up and impart wisdom, John has never been about holding the cards himself, previously. The guitarist is, no doubt, exceptional. But the writer has been but fast-talking and scared shitless, kind of like a musical version of Will Hunting. He’s been the guy who watches the game and when you’re out to call the bluff he’d go, “Oh no, you wouldn’t want to do that.” Because he wouldn’t do that, if only he played. But then again, he has played before. He will play further. "If Olivia herself were at my door, I'll have to say I'll let her it." He says that.
With ‘Born and Raised’, John Mayer seems to have changed from the guy who’d blow a whistle and ask you not to swim in the lake for reasons undisclosed, to the guy who’d show you the crocodile and the arm he lost to one. It’s poetry that’s circumstantial evidence, and it’s played pretty close. There are a couple of songs that show some scars, where most of them – and this is the crucial point – are self-inflicted. You speak too much, you have more to explain.
John has never had a problem with saying/doing what comes to mind until the other person finds a problem with it and spreads the word. But then, like I said, to talk about it is one, to sing about it is another. He’s taken his time, but that’s what he’s seemed to have realized. The man with the guitar has something that the man without the guitar can never have in a case of charm against an actual, substantial voice that can influence people. Charm can, at most, get him laid where he’d only have more to talk about and make things worse for himself.
If ‘Battle Studies’ was a textbook on how to make a deeply insightful record without getting personal about it, ‘Born and Raised’ throws caution out the window and sits it out at a fireplace, finger-picking with a diary in hand whose pages he turns as the guitar plays itself. Music comes easy to John; in fact, it comes so easy that we tend to undermine the effect due to the absence of conspicuous effort put out to cause it. How else are we able to stomach so easily a Country/Folk record after possibly the most mainstream of albums that almost had people click their tongues?
The album is pitch-perfect. I needn’t say more. It has been compared to those it references, although I doubt if that’s the intention. It’s not like John suddenly bought ‘After the Gold Rush’ and ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ and said he’s going to recreate that kind of soul. His album shows signs of immense care, the songs have been nursed, no song has been over-performed. ‘Born and Raised’ is, truly, ‘Born and Raised’ by a parent musician who really loves his baby and thus wants to shape it better. Which he does by shaping himself better, adding a layer, fine-tuning and waiting enough to find some sheen. It’s a husband’s responsibility on top of a lover’s despair, where, once again, John reminds us why we need him around. In his words,
“You know that something isn’t right
when all your heroes are in Black and White.”
It’s from a song called ‘Speak for Me’ where he sighs about a thankless job and yet we find he does it all the same. The record is Technicolor where we live in a sepia-toned world – three-dimensional; conspicuously human. And an A-plus on the Progress Report of the Boy-Genius who’s finally put it all out there instead of merely ‘playing it down.’ It’s a keeper. It’s overwhelming.