Album Review: John Mayer, “Continuum” (2006)

Usually, I let an album “sink in” for about two weeks before reviewing it. Usually, I haven’t listened to the album repeatedly since its release date. Usually, the tracks on the album aren’t the most played tracks on iTunes, even though they’ve only been on my iPod for a few days. Of course, John Mayer is the exception to all three of those statements.

Mayer’s third album finds us in new territory. The live release with his band, the John Mayer Trio helps to bridge the gap between his earlier albums and his new blues/rock sound. He also takes on the helm of the album’s producer (along with John Mayer Trio band mate, Steve Jordan). The result is Continuum, a mature album with stronger vocals, guitar work, and lyrics, and Mayer’s best effort thus far.

The album begins with the first single, Waiting On The World To Change. A bouncy beat reminiscent to old-school R&B leads into a socially conscious track about how today’s younger generation tends to wait for change instead of leading into action. It’s easy to see why the track was picked as a first single; the catchy chorus and breezy vocals make for a radio-friendly hit.

Next up is I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You). While Waiting is a nice track, we really get to the good stuff with this song. The mid-tempo track is comprised of slow guitar and a quiet drum loop, which sets off a lazy, relaxing vibe. Lyrics like, “I will beg my way into your garden/I will break my way out when it rains/Just to get back to the place where I started/So I can want you back all over again”, tell the story of a man who isn’t sure what he wants out of a relationship, but Mayer also brings the blame back to the other half, when he asks, “Who do you love? Me or the thought of me?” Mayer’s vocals are great as usual, and he sounds particularly nice during the bridge and choruses.

Belief is my call for the album’s second single, as it’s another one of the strongest tracks. Ben Harper literally lends a hand and plays guitar on this song about people’s beliefs and how they are influenced by what goes on around us. Again, Mayer seems to be making a political statement, but does so in such a peaceful way that we aren’t bludgeoned in the head with it. Paired with thoughtful lyrics (“We’re never gonna win the world/We’re never gonna stop the war/We’re never gonna beat this/If belief is what we’re fighting for/…What puts the folded flag inside his mother’s hand?/Belief can”) and a catchy melody, this song would easily be a big hit if released as a single.

One of my favorite songs on the album is The Heart Of Life. Musically, it’s one of the simplest tracks on the album, comprised only of guitar, bass, some percussion and Mayer’s vocals. Mayer sings the song to someone who is suffering through life, and the chorus (“Pain throws your heart to the ground/Love turns the whole thing around/No, it won’t all go the way it should/But I know the heart of life is good”) is especially uplifting and encouraging.

The best song, however, may be Stop This Train, a mid-tempo ballad. Again, the production is stripped down and Mayer’s vocals are highlighted nicely, especially as he works out his upper register towards the end of the track. While the song has a nice melody, the lyrics are the strength, as Mayer tackles dealing with the eventual demise of his parents and coping with getting older himself. The lyrics are heartfelt, and you can tell this is something that Mayer often thinks about. One of the best parts in the song comes during the second verse: “Had a talk with my old man/Said ‘Help me understand’/He said ‘Turn 68/you renegotiate/Don’t stop this train/Don’t for a minute change the place you’re in/Don’t think I couldn’t ever understand/I tried my hand/John, honestly/We’ll never stop this train'”.

Similarly, In Repair, also deals with life’s problems and coping with them. The track happens to be another one of my favorites; although the song is over six minutes long, each second flies by with the breezy melody and Mayer’s soothing vocals. Again, the lyrics are perfectly written, and I can personally relate to this song on several levels. The chorus (“Oh, its taking so long/I could be wrong/I could be ready/Oh, but if I take my heart’s advice/I should assume, it’s still unsteady/I am in repair”) will quickly become an anthem for anyone who’s had experience (or currently is) working on themselves or their life.

When Mayer isn’t soul-searching, he seems to be trying to get over a broken heart. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room is a blues ballad that everyone seems to enjoy. Some great guitar riffs play against the slow melody, and as John sings lyrics like, “It’s not a silly little moment/It’s not the storm before the calm/This is the deep and dyin’ breath of/This love we’ve been workin’ on”, you have to wonder if he hasn’t recently ended a bad relationship. (As a side note, this was the only song I allowed myself to enjoy during Clear Channel’s one week streaming of the album before it was released. I listened to it multiple times every day before the stream was taken down, but now every time I hear the song, I keep waiting for the recorded voice of a woman saying “Sneak peek, hear it here first” to butt in during the middle of the track)

This sentiment continues with Dreaming With A Broken Heart. The song begins with simple piano, which comes off sounding like a sad lullaby. This is another one of the standout tracks- Mayer’s delivery is appropriately downtrodden, and the piano (and guitar, which is added later) make for a beautiful song. Once again, I turned on the waterworks during the first verse (“You roll out of bed and down on your knees/And for a moment you can hardly breathe/Wondering was she really here/Is she standing in my room? /No, she’s not/’Cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.”). I’m not sure if Mayer really did have his heartbroken, but I can think of quite a few women who’d be more than willing to help him mend it.

Gravity and Vultures are presented in studio form (they were also released on Try!) and both tracks sound nice. Gravity sounds pretty much identical to it’s live counterpart, though this version includes some backing singers, who come really close to being over the top, but somehow manage to make the song work. Vultures is also pretty similar, though Mayer’s vocals are a lot clearer, and the lyrics are much easier to understand. Mayer also tackles Jimi Hendrix’s song Bold As Love, and besides singing his heart out, also performs a great guitar solo that’ll prove to skeptics that he isn’t just a “pretty boy”- he’s a pretty boy who can also play the hell out of a guitar.

The album closes with the shortest song (2:43), I’m Gonna Find Another You. The track has Eric Clapton written all over it (and heck, Mayer even admits it in his liner notes, saying “Eric Clapton knows I steal from him and is still cool with it”); from the soulful vocals, right down to the guitar, but it all works well, and the result is a nice blues track that ends the album perfectly.

John Mayer’s music has been a part of my life since 2001. I remember seeing the video for No Such Thing, being amazed by Mayer’s talent, and I’ve been a fan since then. When Heavier Things was released, I was so thrilled with the album, and I remember saying, “This is my favorite John Mayer CD, hands down”. Now, nearly six years after my love for Mayer began, I find myself still completely in awe of Mayer’s talent, and still wondering if he’ll ever let me down. Somehow, I doubt it. In fact, I bet that in six more years I’ll still be saying, “John Mayer if my favorite singer”. I don’t doubt that at all.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Waiting On The World To Change
2. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
3. Belief
4. Gravity
5. The Heart Of Life
6. Vultures
7. Stop This Train
8. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
9. Bold As Love
10. Dreaming With A Broken Heart
11. In Repair
12. I’m Gonna Find Another You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBIxScJ5rlY]
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