John Mayer’s development as a songwriter has been nothing short of remarkable. After writing albums that fell into the pop, soft rock, blues, rock, and country genres, John Mayer has now moved into folk rock and Americana territory with his 2013 release, Paradise Valley.
Unfortunately, Paradise Valley doesn’t deliver the same punch that we’ve heard from some of his past works. Of course, it wasn’t exactly intended to be a force — since it is a laid-back, folk-influenced album — but compared to its predecessor, Born and Raised, the album’s track list doesn’t go nearly as deep. With 11-songs on the album, I believe there are only four or five tracks worth multiple listens.
“Wildfire” kicks off the album with twangy, overdubbed guitars and extremely catchy percussion. John Mayer writes playful love lines like “you and me been catching on like wildfire” for his current girlfriend, Katy Perry. With lyrics like that, it’s a glimpse into some of his past pop songs like “Your Body is a Wonderland.” Towards the end of the track there is an extended instrumental portion, featuring a bubbly sounding guitar solo by Mayer. With this song, Mayer sets the vibe for the rest of the album, though I think this is the strongest overall track.
I was extremely excited to see Mayer cover J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze,” as he has often does wonderful covers of great songs, and I was not disappointed. While Mayer remains faithful to the original, this song has a place on the album as it allows him to shine as a guitarist with a Stevie Ray Vaughan influenced solo.
Where this album falls short is the depth of the track list and the missed opportunities with his collaborations involving Frank Ocean and Katy Perry. Katy Perry performs backing vocals and a single verse on the track, “Who You Love,” but you wouldn’t know it unless you read the liner notes on the album’s back cover. With generic, repetitive lyrics, the song lacks development, just like most of the songs on this album. It’s a shame that Mayer and Perry weren’t able to utilize both of their voices on a track with more powerful lyrics.
Frank Ocean appears on the album with his own song, “Wildfire Pt. 2.” I consider this song once of the strongest on the entire album, but it feels completely out of place on this album. Mayer is totally uninvolved on the track, with only ambient keyboards and R&B style percussion, it sounds like it should’ve been on Ocean’s 2012 release, Channel Orange. As a stand-alone song it is terrific, but under the context of the album, I don’t believe it fits at all. I wish Frank Ocean had been used elsewhere, or at least the track had been stretched out to last longer than 90 seconds.
Once track nine of the album starts, the album really begins to go downhill. “You’re No One ‘til Someone Lets You Down” is another song heavily influenced by Americana, but I don’t think Mayer does the genre true justice. With pedal steel guitars and a laid-back beat, he does a fine job of beginning to paint a picture, but he never seems to finish it. The same can be said for the two following songs, “Badge and Gun”, and “On The Way Home.” On the album cover, John Mayer appears to be lost in the middle of nowhere, which turns out to be the case with the majority of these tracks, which are either incomplete, misplaced, or just downright boring.
Best Songs: Wildfire, Call Me The Breeze
Worst Songs: Badge and Gun, On The Way Home
Rating: Five out of Ten