John Mayer has enjoyed the best of all possible musical worlds since debuting with 2001's Room for Squares. His early success as a sensitive singer-songwriter led to platinum sales and Grammy wins, but the Berklee-schooled guitarist soon tired of the pop treadmill and began dabbling in hip-hop and jazz, and eventually assembled the John Mayer Trio to explore his inner electric-blues child. Over the past three years, Mayer's dating activities have been given nearly as much attention as his music, so it may come as little surprise that the focus of his new album, Battle Studies, is heartbreak in its various and sundry forms.
Given the subject, it's natural that Mayer should lean more toward his pop side, even though the Trio (which also includes bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan) plays on Battle Studies. There are moments when Mayer's edge shines through, like on the melancholy yet upbeat "Perfectly Lonely" and the Mark Knopfler-tinged "Half of My Heart." And Mayer leavens his blues with plenty of the soulful pop he's perfected from the start ("All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye," "Friends, Lovers or Nothing"). Mayer has his detractors, but Battle Studies shows a potent and engaging diversity in his pop/blues translation.
— Brian Baker