Album Review: John Mayer – Continuum

In 2006, John Mayer had already established his musical career quite comfortably with two successful pop rock albums to his name. However his third album Continuum would lean heavily towards more blues and soul influences. The burning question is would these genres translate well into his previous pop orientated sound?

Opener Waiting on the World to Change is Mayer’s analysis on the current state of politics. He expresses his frustration on his generation’s inaction to challenge the status quo “Now we see everything that’s going wrong/With the world and those who lead it/We just feel like we don’t have the means/To rise above and beat it.

It is evident that Mayer has started to address more serious themes as opposed to the teenage-angst topics that were explored in his previous work. Musical features such as the R&B drum beats and the Hendrix inspired guitar licks proves that this is the sound Mayer was always destined to have.

I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You) sees Mayer singing about a past relationship “No, I’m not the man I used to be lately/See you met me at an interesting time/And if my past is a sign of your future/You should be warned before I let you inside”. The vulnerability that’s conveyed in his voice insinuates that he’s too afraid to commit again because of his past. While the track has characteristics of blues music, it also incorporates unusual instruments such as horns. However the result of this is pleasantly surprising as these brass sections complement the musical textures of the guitars nicely.

Belief continues on the theme of politics. The song discusses how beliefs define people’s identities “Belief is a beautiful armour but makes for the heaviest sword/Like punching underwater/You can never hit who you’re trying for”. However it can also be interpreted that beliefs can be destructive as Mayer subtly references major political issues such as the Iraq war “It’s the chemical weapon/For the war that’s raging on inside”.

“Many fans still consider Continuum as Mayer’s best work to date due to the way he successfully married the contemporary pop elements of his preceding albums together with his everlasting love for blues music.”

Gravity showcases Mayer’s love for blues. The opening guitar solo channels the same sophisticated playing style of legendary blues pioneer and guitarist B.B. King. While Gravity embodies elements of blues, it also has dashes of soul music within it. The addition of organs, keyboards and backing vocalists adds an angelic quality to the track.

If there was a song that defined the word ‘groovy’ in a dictionary then Vultures would be it. Full credit has to be given to both bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan who perfectly drive and set up the rhythm section to allow Mayer to layer the clean melody on top. Acoustic number Stop This Train highlights how competent Mayer is as a guitar player. While the majority of his guitar playing is done just using his fingers, the slap strum technique he implements in Stop This Train mimics the sound of an actual train chugging along its tracks. The song discusses how precious life is “So scared of getting older/I’m only good at being young/So I play the numbers game/To find a way to say that life has just begun”.

Heart breaking love ballad Slow Dancing in a Burning Room depicts a deteriorating relationship “It’s not the storm before the calm/This is the deep and dying breath of/This love we’ve been working on” which is underpinned by gorgeous harmonising guitars and R&B influences. Nine songs into Continuum and Mayer finds the time to cover Jimi Hendrix tune Bold As Love from the 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love. While it’s a daunting task to masterfully cover a Hendrix song, Mayer does an excellent job of paying homage to one of his main musical influences by staying faithful to the original version of the track.

Despite Continuum being released eleven years ago, this still remains my favourite record by John Mayer. Not only did it become one of the quintessential albums that sound tracked my early days at university but it would also make me rediscover and fall in love with old school blues music all over again. Many fans still consider Continuum as Mayer’s best work to date due to the way he successfully married the contemporary pop elements of his preceding albums together with his everlasting love for blues music.