Past the brilliance of Continuum with its jazz-soul powered numbers, one could not think of what else could top it, and the following record Battle Studies, certainly does not. In comparison to Continuum, Battle Studies is pretty lukewarm and would not stand a chance. But judging it on its own, it is a marvelous laid-back piece of work and shows a different, softer, mellow yet still soulful side of Mayer. His blues influences are shed down in Battle Studies, maybe not entirely but are an absolute change from his preceding album.
Battle Studies is adult contemporary acoustic pop. Produced by Mayer himself along with Steve Jordan, the sound of the record is no less than amazing. It is consistent and keeps an all toned down feel, yet still holds that emotional Mayer punch present in his last records; the album has no duds. Mayer sings in the midst of acoustic and electric guitars, soft to faint percussion and melodious harmonies; musically it is simple, but minimalism does it for the album as Mayer’s vocals become the main focus of the record, making one feel as if one were in an acoustic rock saloon.
The record opens with the soft and experimental ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, which keeps it all in one key until the end when Mayer mildly belts. The cover for ‘Crossroads’ (an Eric Clapton classic) stays almost true to its original, but Mayer makes it his own with his powerful iridescent vocals and outstanding instrumentation. ‘All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye’ is gently bitter and comes across as a very heartfelt track, and ‘War of My Life’ is extremely genuine and honest, it is beautifully written and unflawed.
It is worth noting the alleged Taylor Swift feature, which is far from being a feature other than credited backing vocals towards the end of the track; it could have easily done without Swift, as her vocals add nothing to the pop intensity of ‘Half of My Heart’, or Mayer’s wonderful vocal delivery for that matter.
The album is poetically written, it conveys a lot of sentiment; the play on words and wits of the verses are stellar. The way the composition and instrumentation are arranged could not be any more perfect. Every guitar strum, every harmony, every instrument is exactly where it should be, the album just feels right and precise. Despite the bitter mood of some tracks, Mayer showcases his sense of humor encrusted in lyrics where he sings about marijuana and doubting love, when loving someone but still looking for someone else. There is some sort of progression in the record, it just does not hit the listener like his previous work, but steps forward at a different pace than what he has done before.
Battle Studies seems inspired by a little Bob Dylan, a sprinkle of Eric Clapton and somewhat a slight tinge of Chicago. It is a striking and insightful compilation of music even if it does not contain the predominant blues or the all-around guitar play from Continuum, but the record seems to be Mayer finding another approach to pour his heart on music by toning it down and humbly layering his soul in this acoustic simplicity.