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John Mayer - Continuum

2007-03-05 17:15
GALLERY: Through the years

Making a really brilliant album is difficult - many albums we rate three stars or less have a couple of great songs on them. But an album that lasts years, and that you can listen to the whole way through without skipping tracks, that you come to need, and return to repeatedly, because it chrystalises a feeling perfectly, is a rare and a beautiful thing.

Making an album that still has such power - but also obeys the pop conventions, and that millions of listeners can love - is an even harder thing to do. Mayer has managed it here, perhaps partly because he took time out of the limelight after his Heavier Things Grammys year and made the space to remain a real musician and develop himself. However he did this, the results are astounding.

Listening to the songs on Continuum, you hear strong traces of the musicians who may have formed his sound. It's like he's taken singing lessons from the soul greats, subtlety lessons from the arty anti-folk crowd, tightness tips from Steely Dan, and songwriting lessons from Paul Simon. The hard vocal attack of his earlier work is replaced with a canny sense of just how to touch the ears. Continuum is scattered with phrases that make you want to stop the CD and say "did you hear that?" - where an elegant but emotive blend of lyric and surprising but unfussy melody captures something that rings eerily true.

The single "Waiting on the World to Change" makes its political point without labouring it; we leaders of the future feel helpless, but we're sitting waiting for the world to change on its own? Unfortunately this song grows tiring, and is far from the best on the album. Taking the tracks in no particular order, "Belief" is more powerful in its argument against the misuse of faith, which may be the greatest solace but it's also the most dangerous sword.

"I Don't Trust Myself" is a haunting portrait of a man warning a woman about how his needs will override his kindness. He may be good looking, but Mayer isn't selling his exterior for groupies (when he could) ."I will beg my way into your garden / And then I'll break my way out when it rains" he says. "Gravity" - an instant classic, a standard, a simple triumph of a song - is charged with temptation and also with a sexual morality born of self-awareness not usually encouraged in men, or pop music.

He's ultimately human on this album, helping a crying daughter or girlfriend face her life on "The Heart of Life", struggling to face his own mortality on the enduringly funny "Stop This Train" or dealing out searing, heartbroken goodbye lines to a lover on "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room". There's a lot of loss on this work, and all of it believable.

There's one cover on the album, of Jimi Hendrix's "Bold as Love", which he stretches without breaking it, almost into a new song at first.

Steve Jordan (also the drummer) deserves credit for dry, stylish production that treats every song according to its needs and no more, leaving them slick but never overly trite. Sure, he takes the odd risk, but none that show him off over the material. Rick Rubin could learn a thing or two there.

Buy this album. It's superb singing, from the songwriter's soul - the real thing. And the short (and sweet) liner notes and classy packaging makes it more worth owning than the average commercial release.

- Jean Barker
If you loved Heavier Things, Continuum is a sure thing. And if you didn't? Well there's a better than good chance i>Continuum will convert you. It's an odd blend of adult contemporary and old soul that is seductive, subtle and simple at once.

What to read next: Kalahari

Rene Ferreira 2006-12-27 09:37 AM
AMAZING! I've been a John Mayer fan since I heard "Your Body is a Wonderland" a few years ago. His music keeps evolving and gets better and better. His new album has surpassed every expectation. All those who called him "the new dave matthews" a few years back have had to swallow their words and John Mayer is no clone. He's a musician in his own right and deserves all the credit he receives. I look forward to seeing what this magician pulls out of his hat next.!
Liz 2006-12-27 01:49 PM
It's great!! I've also been a fan of JM's for years. My favourite on Continuum is the last track-a gentle pop/blues song: 'Find another you'. Do yourself a favour and also have a listen to Try! (the live CD he recorded beteen Heavier things and Continuum with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino). It rocks!
Samsung 2008-03-25 02:33 PM
Forever and again Spot on, Jean. I never grow tired of this CD, and I did exactly like you said - I stopped it to ask "did you hear that line?" fantastic. I still listen to it over and over.

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