So Taylor’s not really on this one much, then…
Anthony Easton: Too little Taylor Swift, whose voice would work quite well with John Mayer. That said, I was having a big argument with a friend about Billy Joel a couple of weeks ago, and I got shockingly rockist. I still cannot get into Joel, but I realised that his feelings for Billy were like my feelings for John Mayer… There is something tender and wonderful, open, and honest — or at least constructed in such a way that the authenticity seems authentic, and so I find myself, against my better critical judgment, really loving his work. Is this what a guilty pleasure feels like?
Hillary Brown: I wish this made me hate John Mayer, and I can come up with a lot of reasons it should (wussy, too soft, minimizes Swift’s contribution), but the fact is that the dude is unbelievably skilled at making this kind of gentle background music, and his voice suits it extremely well while not being so generic you can’t pick it out of a crowd. Props, even if the song isn’t very exciting.
Martin Skidmore: I know he’s big, but I’ve managed to ignore his half-assed deadeyed blues rock until now. I love Taylor Swift, but for her songwriting much more than her singing, and this is a Mayer song — and she is barely allowed to sing anyway. It’s totally soporific and lacking in any spirit at all.
John Seroff: BOOOOOO to false advertising; Taylor is a guest on “Half of My Heart” in only the most nominal fashion, leaving way too much Mayer for way too long. It’s a dirty trick with a worse punchline: a by-the-numbers snooze ballad that isn’t even worth the effort to properly dislike it.
Alfred Soto: The half of the heart that’s worrisome here is Mayer’s, who sings like he suffers from angina. When he lets his guitar do the mewling, the song very faintly evokes the early eighties brand of boomer bathos epitomized by “Leather and Lace,” but there’s still the problem of billing, since Swift gets a credit despite wandering in like she came back from slipping into something more comfortable for John’s sake.
Katherine St Asaph: Like most of John Mayer’s work, this is calculated to the hilt for its market niche: sweet acoustic music by unthreatening, deep songwriter guys. That niche is currently filled by fucking Train, of all people, so he must have seen an opportunity. But the thing is, Mayer isn’t a great songwriter — the verses here are a mess — and more importantly, he’s an asshole, the exact kind he’s positioned against. So when he drivels on about this and that half of his heart, I just wonder which half is the one that makes him say shit like his dick is a white supremacist. Meanwhile, Taylor is reduced to a session singer, if you think that’s a reduction.
Jonathan Bogart: If this isn’t already all over adult contemporary cubicle-soundtrack playlists, someone should be fired. Taylor’s little more than a glorified backup singer here, but anyone who’s heard Mayer should be ashamed to call her range limited. The central conceit of the song is bracing in its cynicism, but I suspect he means it to be open-eyed confessionalism. Try sounding less asleep next time, bro.
Chuck Eddy: John Mayer’s a guy I actually wish I liked more than I do — seems to be a fairly hilarious fella in real life; blue-eyed soul singers are quite useful in theory; the suicide-bomber clatter of “Assassin” on Battle Studies last year had potential; and his guitar jam battle with Keith Urban at the CMT Awards a couple weeks ago was fun to watch. Not sure why he always seems to wuss out on record; judging from this track, it’s as much to do with the nasal-inhaler airiness of his vocals as the congruent vacancy of his words. Still, this is pleasant — even if Taylor does wait out almost all of it in the on-deck circle.
Frank Kogan: This track lopes along gently, Mayer half-gruff and half-purring and totally empty, the guitar playing mushy color chords and pretty fills. Taylor adds a pretty harmony that others could do as well, then is glimpsed briefly singing a response line that avoids her expressive waver, since the waver wouldn’t be right for this song; but that’s the song’s fault.
Michaelangelo Matos: Pure autopilot, which in this case means pop-rock rather than blues-rock and a mildly bopping pace and chorus whose absolute professionalism make them a little more repellent. The cameo from America’s Sweetheart (sit down, Taylor’s best friend Miley, please) is just that: a couple lines in the middle and a couple gauzy oohs at the end. When I start encountering it at the diner I frequent, I’ll be sure to nod along–it’ll be there for the next two years, probably, so there’s plenty of time.