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Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Mayer returned to the studio soon after 2012’s Born and Raised was released. The result: his sixth album, Paradise Valley, out on Aug. 20, which features a similar country-folk sound as its predecessor, as producer Don Was again lends his guidance and sonic touch.
Mayer has experimented with a litany of musical styles and genres over the years, ranging from soft acoustic rock to electric blues to hip-hop, contributing to Common’s 2005 single, “Go!” and Kanye West’s “Bittersweet Poetry,” a bonus track on the rapper’s 2008 album Graduation.
But despite his immense success, the award-winning singer’s music has often taken a backseat to tabloid headlines. To wit: his infamous 2010 interview with Playboy caused a global controversy that left him branded as both racist and misogynistic.
Receding from the spotlight, Born and Raised and Paradise Valley reflect his change in scenery after moving to Montana, but still, his Hollywood status is sewn throughout the record.
With help from current flame Katy Perry and rising hip-hop icon Frank Ocean, there’s plenty to talk about on Mayer’s latest effort, including a possible Taylor Swift diss track. Here’s what the critics are saying:
Writing for the Boston Globe, James Reed admits disappointment in the new effort. “The music has lost its spark,” Reed opines. “Stilted, loose and light in uninteresting ways.” The review doesn’t get much more positive, as he relates the songs to a “breezy journey” that “leads to a dead end,” and “all smoke and no fire.”
In a more positive review from Rolling Stone, Anthony Decurtis describes how the absence of heavy effects on the album “work to his advantage, allowing both his talent and his charm to shine.” Adds the veteran critic: “Mayer continues to blow down the road, this time carrying far less baggage and all the better for it.”
In a review for the New York Daily News, Jim Farber feels “all of Paradise Valley proves more successful than Mayer’s last effort at nailing the styles that inspired it. The melodies have more ease, the lyrics more awareness and the mood more coherence.”
Another mostly favorable review from Idolator‘s Patrick Bowman says the “country-fried aesthetic firmly intact can allow the moments of wistful melancholy to haunt the edges of his music rather than engulf it.”
Caroline Sullivan from The Guardian feels Ocean’s guest appearance on the track “Wildfire” “is easily the most striking 85 seconds on the record.” However, it could be drowned out by the album’s “biggest talking point, ‘Paper Dolls,’ a washed-out ballad apparently aimed at ex, Taylor Swift.”
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