CD reviews: John Mayer, Garbage, The Cult

John Mayer

John Mayer Born and Raised/Columbia

It has been nearly three years since John Mayer released his last album, “Battle Studies.” In that time, the singer-songwriter has faced some challenges, including running damage control after a surprisingly candid Playboy magazine interview, as well as undergoing surgery for granulomas that were discovered in his throat.

Despite the tough times, Mayer found time to record a new album of songs. Titled “Born and Raised,” and produced with Don Was (Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones), from the sound of the music on the new album, it would seem that the trials of the last few years have caused Mayer to take a look inside himself.

David Crosby and Graham Nash provide background vocals for the leadoff track, “Queen of California,” a sunny tune that evokes memories of California rock classics by folks such as Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne.

The whole album has a definite country-rock sound to it, and the material is much more mellow as a whole than past Mayer releases.

From the introspective “Speak for Me” to the mildly funky “Something Like Olivia,” there are different varieties of the country rock sound here, but overall this is an album designed to be heard while winding down after a long day.

Perhaps the low-key vibe on this new release signifies a newfound attitude for Mayer.

Whatever the case, “Born and Raised” is as solid a collection of songs as Mayer has ever released.

Key Tracks: “Queen of California,” “Something Like Olivia,” “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”

Garbage Not Your Kind Of People/Stunvolume

Although the alternative rock band Garbage is now known chiefly for Shirley Manson, its no-nonsense Scottish lead singer, at the time the band was formed in 1994 it was mainly notable for its drummer, Butch Vig.

If the name sounds familiar outside of Garbage, it’s most likely because Vig produced several of the best albums of the early ’90s grunge-rock era, including Smashing Pumpkins’ “Gish,” Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” and, most notably, Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”

Throughout the ’90s and early part of this century, Garbage turned out a slew of great radio hits, including “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Stupid Girl.”

After disbanding, reuniting, going on hiatus and doing whatever else a band can do to dance around the fact that it isn’t releasing new material, Garbage is back with “Not Your Kind of People.”

Are Vig, Manson and the rest of Garbage able to recapture the bands signature sound from the ’90s? Well, kind of.

Manson’s vocals are as sweet as ever and make the listener pine for the days when Lollapalooza was still a traveling summer show and having a tattoo or piercing was considered edgy.

The music though, while definitely keeping with the band’s signature sound, really doesn’t break any new ground. Songs such as “Big Bright World,” “Blood For Poppies” and “I Hate Love” aren’t exactly garbage, but they aren’t exactly Garbage either.

While it’s nice to have the band back, “Not Your Kind of People” is a musical confection that definitely should have spent a bit more time in the oven.

Key Tracks: “Big Bright World,” “Control,” “Battle in Me”

The Cult Choice of Weapon/Essential

If you made a list of the most tumultuous and dysfunctional bands in rock and roll, The Cult would certainly place somewhere in the Top 20.

Sure, there are more messed-up bands (volumes could be written about The Kinks alone), but despite releasing some incredibly solid and supercharged rock music over the past 30 years, The Cult has gone through its share of challenges.

The last time the band emerged from one of its numerous breakups/hiatuses, the resulting studio album, 2007’s “Born Into This,” was one of the weakest efforts in The Cult’s history. Frontman Ian Astbury even said at the time “Born Into This” would likely be the band’s last album.

Thank goodness Astbury had a change of heart, because the band’s new album, “Choice of Weapon,” makes it safe to be a fan of The Cult again.

While Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy remain the only original members of the band, bassist Chris Wyse and drummer John Tempesta do a great job as the band’s rhythm section.

Longtime fans of The Cult will hear hints of the band’s roots in songs such as “The Wolf” and “For the Animals,” which feature the band’s trademark sound of Astbury’s Jim Morrison-like vocals over tasty guitar riffs from Duffy.

There are other great, albeit mellower, moments on the album with songs such as “Elemental Light” and “Life > Death.”

“Choice of Weapon” is no “Electric,” but it was recorded in the same frame of mind as that classic Cult album. The important thing for fans of the band though, is that The Cult is officially back in the business of delivering posterior-kicking rock and roll.

Key Tracks: “The Wolf,” “For the Animals,” “A Pale Horse”

By Devin Grant