John Mayer returns in Paradise Valley, his sixth release, as a gentle guitar god.
Unlike the preceding Born and Raised, this album feels like more lyrically restrained effort from the Montana-based musician. It’s reflective and relaxing, often evoking the paradise of its title.
The lyrical concerns are nonetheless varied: ‘Dear Marie’ is a musical letter to a high school certificate where Mayer reflects on his fame, while ‘Paper Dolls’ is a pointed retaliation at his ex, Taylor Swift (with lyrics like “Was it just too hard to fall / For a little paper doll?”)
Musically, the album is diverse, emphasized by the smooth snare drum in ‘Paper Dolls’, the piano lines in ‘I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)’ and the Californian feel of the Frank Ocean-featuring ‘Wildfire’.
Don Was’s production remains as pristine as ever; the guitars are crisp and fluid, with electrified licks and strummed steel-strings combining to create interesting dynamics – like in ‘Waitin’ On The Day’.
Was also gives the textured tones of Mayer and his guests some genuine impact.
Mayer’s rich tenor and falsetto shine on ‘Badge And Gun’, while Frank Ocean’s ‘Wildfire’ contribution is simply breathtaking. But it’s ‘Who You Love’, a power ballad featuring a stunningly soulful Katy Perry, that ends up stealing the album.
Paradise Valley is undeniably a musically rich album, suggesting that Mayer is recapturing the spark that once mesmerised so many people. How much you enjoy it nonetheless depends on your vulnerability to Mayer’s particular type of smooth, folk-rock inflected Americana.