It was a little over two years ago that John Mayer soaked his career in kerosene and lit a match, sitting for a Playboy interview in which he compared a certain part of his anatomy to David Duke, and gratuitously overshared about his relationships with ex-girlfriends Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson. It was one of pop history’s most spectacular (and purposeful? Freud would say yes) acts of self-sabotage.
Mayer drapes himself in sackcloth and ashes for his first record since, the doleful adult contemporary apologia “Born and Raised.” It’s seeded with quotable songs about how sorry and ashamed Mayer is, how he’s spent these past few years thinking hard about Life. “Hard times helped me see/I’m a good man with a good heart,” he sings on the first single “Shadow Days,” one of the disc’s many People-magazine-baiting couplets.
Mayer is an underrated singer (better than ever, despite his ongoing throat troubles), an extraordinary guitarist and an overrated melodicist who has historically been content to coast on his considerable chops. “Born and Raised” leans into a kind of laconic, “Tapestry”-era California folk that rewards Mayer’s lack of effort and need for conspicuous atonement in a way his bluesier numbers never did. The best songs (like the title track, on which Graham Nash and David Crosby provide non-showy harmonies) sound like they were made in Topanga Canyon in 1972. The worst (like the dirgey “Love Is a Verb”) sound like they were made last week, by the really depressed hologram of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“Queen of California,” “Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey”