Review Summary: Despite its lack of concept, Continuum's honest, blues-pop evaluations of truth, belief, war and love make for such a perfect and complete album from start to finish that its healing value is immense.
Lately it seems we can't keep ourselves from feeling tired. We're tired of headlines touting the world's next war-torn region; tired of the mundane realities that drag us back to difficult work after a weekend of drink and relaxation. We're tired of love and its endless pursuits, tired of loss and its inevitable victory, and most of all, we're tired of ourselves, the uncertainty of what we are and the fact it so rarely leaves us alone. No matter how the day plays out - tedious or blissful, effortless or tough - one thing always catches up. 2006's Continuum
is, engraved on a compact disc, the antidote to a very real tiredness - a weary-eyed, hopeless state of near surrender. It treats all of the old enemies in a relatable and very human way, through songs which remain immediate but possess hidden attention to detail, and the result is one of the most heartwarming 50 minutes of music imaginable.
There are a million records more bouncy than Continuum
, hundreds more joyous and a fair number less self-involved, but John Mayer's third studio album holds its weight not in a forced smile but in its honesty and ultimate optimism. To hype it as a concept record would be false; Continuum
is without a doubt a collection of songs as opposed to an album with much artistic intent, and there's even a Hendrix cover, the resurgent 'Bold As Love', to round off the track listing with a bit of extra style. The way it is organised, though, renders it a record powerful enough to merit the 5 this review gives it; the quality of the songs seals the deal. Chilled-out and gently varied, these understated cuts are gems, each and every one of them.
As a guitarist Mayer more than knows his way around, as the 'Bold As Love' solo will demonstrate to any doubter, and one of the reasons this album so defiantly stands the test of time is the way its licks are instantly lovable but at the same time devilishly inconspicuous. Adopting a blues tone and a variety of mellow rhythms, the third quarter of songs never drift or become predictable as a result of prominent guitar work throughout, adorned frequently with subtle glockenspiel and piano. This musical backdrop is mixed perfectly so that Continuum
never becomes a barrage of noise or overwhelming to relaxed senses, but also maintains its lounge vibe in a realistic manner. Realism is the cornerstone of everything Continuum
does right. There may be greater lyricists than John Mayer - he writes, for the most part, about general difficulties and universal emotions - but very few could pen songs that fit the aforementioned musical niche more snugly, and his succinct, personal writing style is pivotal to the success of these tracks. There are a number of moments when he threatens cliché, but his sincerity and absence of melodrama bolt the ideas to the floor alongside the modest intricacy of his guitar lines. He tackles war, love, loss and general ennui in the most accessible of manners, but never comes across as dumbed-down, merely the most distilled form of social commentator you can imagine, and his credibility is earned, not through some pre-conception of his humility, but by his mild-mannered approach to the most volatile of subjects.
And it is here that it needs to be said: Continuum
is not a revolutionary album. It reinvents no facet of what it adopts, it says nothing previously unsuggested and it is democratic where most important records choose anarchy. But these qualities, much as they are bound to provoke sneers, make it an album that always sees reason, no matter how the day plays out. As with pretty much every flawless record, Continuum
needs to be experienced from top to bottom to make sense, although its songs are bound to find their way onto playlists and mixtapes with considerable impact. But the record's lasting effect stems from the way it passes through psychological states, at first questioning things, at its heart searching for answers and towards its close finding resolutions, all of them realistic. There are no sudden jolts in direction, no facades to break through whatsoever. Listening to Continuum
from start to finish is like hearing John Mayer figure out why life isn't so bad over and over again, and as you listen you realise the same things he does. It's a healing process, intentional or not, that never fails to fix that tiredness, and as the short and optimistic closer fades out amidst picked guitars and rattling cymbals, the state of near-surrender vanishes, replaced by something calm and satisfying. A resolution, of sorts. And then life continues.