Saturday, June 16, 2012

Song Review: "Born and Raised" - John Mayer


Songwriter: John Mayer

With the title track to his recently released album, John Mayer has written what I contend to be his best song to date. "Born and Raised" is somber, elegiac, melodious, hopeful, and contains some of the most poignant lyrics I've heard this year. It is intensely personal, both for Mayer and the listener.

There is no question why Mayer named the album after this song, as it succinctly touches on the gamut of themes that run throughout the entire collection of songs. These include getting older ("I cheat the light to check my face/ It's slightly harder than last year"); losing the childlike innocence and romanticism of dreams as you do, in fact, get older ("I still have dreams, they're not the same/ They don't fly as high as they used to"); and the pointless exhaustion of being somebody you're not ("Then all at once it gets hard to take/ It gets hard to fake what I won't be"). On this song Mayer showcases the rare ability to hit you in the gut seemingly line after line. For the listener, that gut punch represents the recognition of truth in the simple poetry of his words. Perhaps even more impressive: he does it without any fancy wordplay.

One such verse particularly affected me. I laughed a bit (in recognition) and got watery-eyed when I first heard it:

I still got time
I still got faith
I call on both of my brothers
I got a mom
I got a dad
But they do not have each other

The devastation of that last line is what hit me like a freight train colliding with a brick wall. It's the rare instance when Mayer gets lyrically specific, referencing his parents' divorce in 2009 when he was 31 or 32 years old. It's also rare that a song touches upon parents' divorcing when the son or daughter is an adult. But if you have ever gone through that, this verse captures the aftermath and the years of confusing emotions, and puts them to song in a truly heartfelt and cathartic way.

Mayer's voice for the majority of "Born and Raised" is pure exhausted woundedness. He forces out a bit of hope on his delivery of some of the lines, but it's just enough to still keep the song grounded in reality. The narrator is still in pain, he's still hanging on, but it's no longer just barely. Harmony vocals on the track are provided by David Crosby and Graham Nash (you might have heard of a little band they were in), and the the addition of their gorgeously haunting vocals matched with Mayer's add to the melancholy while at the same time preventing the song from completely drowning in it. There is a point a little past halfway in the song when all their voices come together in a chorus of "Ahhhh, ahhhh, ahh-uh-ahh's," accentuated by the subtle sound of a harmonica. It's breathtaking in its wordless beauty, and for the hope it symbolizes.

After hearing a song like this, I don't see how a listener could sit back and call Mayer a hack. He has certainly written many other great songs in the past, and sure, all music is subjective. But even haters would have to admit that a song like "Born and Raised" showcases a songwriter at the top of his game, and they would have to respect that whether they personally like the song or not.

For my part, a song like this is inspiring, capturing how difficult life can be yet holding out hope that our best days aren't all in the past. It is a song that reminds us, no matter how bad it gets or bleak it looks, to "line on up, and take your place/ And show your face to the morning." Life is punctuated by ecstatic highs and debilitating lows, and the best music covers both ends of that spectrum and everything in between. The best songs cover it all within the same four minutes.

Rating: 10/10 

For a full album review of Born and Raised, click here.


Lyrics:

Now and then I pace my place
I can't retrace how I got here
I cheat the light to check my face
It's slightly harder than last year

Then all at once it gets hard to take
It gets hard to fake what I won't be
'Cause one of these days I'll be
Born and raised
And it's such a waste to grow up lonely

I still have dreams, they're not the same
They don't fly as high as they used to
I saw my friend, he's in my head and he said
"You don't remember me, do you?"

Then all at once it gets hard to take
It gets hard to fake what I won't be
'Cause one of these days I'll be 
Born and raised
And it's such a waste to grow up lonely

I still got time
I still got faith
I call on both of my brothers
I got a mom
I got a dad
But they do not have each other

So line on up, and take your place
And show your face to the morning
'Cause one of these days you'll be
Born and raised
And it all comes on without warning

2 comments:

  1. Richard, your review of this song (and the entire album) is so spot on. This album is so deep, so rich. I've been along on the Mayer ride for over ten years, have seen him live many times and was simply blown away by this album. This particular song makes my heart break. Thank you for articulating so well. I hope John makes it back from all of his medical maladies. I could really care less about all of the gossip/verbal faux pas/etc - he's a fabulous musician and artist and I cannot wait to go to another concert! Thanks again!

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  2. Michela, thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I'm glad you are enjoying the album as much as I am. I have yet to see him live, but I hope to get that opportunity once he recovers. I know it will be a great show. Thank you again!

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