Review Summary: Got a brand new blues that I can't explain.
John Mayer had us all easily fooled from the beginning. Gently strumming his acoustic guitar with his sing-along chorus of "I want to run through the halls of my high school/I want to scream at the top of my lungs", on first listen many could easily label him as yet another generic singer/songwriter with his heart on his sleeve. Not to say that his first two studio albums were bad in any way (three if you include his 1999 EP "Inside Wants Out"), but they really just lacked the expertise that he was capable of. After 2003's reserved album "Heavier Things" Mayer started showing interest in music outside of the usual acoustic rock he was known for doing. He did collaborations with Kanye West for Graduation and Common for his album Be, as well as sharing the stage with blues legends Eric Clapton and B.B King among others. Mayer hinted more clearly towards his influences from guitarist such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.
In 2005 Mayer formed the "John Mayer Trio" consisted of drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino along with Mayer himself. The trio released one live album entitled "Try!" which mostly showcased Mayers profound skill on guitar. Mayer had always hinted his skill before, but never fully came into the open about it until "Try!" (excluding the solo on "Covered In Rain" from his previous live album Any Given Thursday). Following the short lived trio, Mayer went on to record the commercial and critical success Continuum.
One of the first things apparent with Continuum is how much Mayer is dabbling with a variety of genres. The pop sty-lings that dominated his first records are still all here, but they now are mixed in with all of the jazz, blues and soul influences that Mayer had recently added to his repertoire. Mayer has always shown he is a fantastic songwriter, but on Continuum he really steps up his game. His lyrics aren't always the most original or innovative, but his clever wordplay and knack for explaining universal emotions will quickly distract you from this. Mayer deals with topics such as love, growing up, social awareness, as well as war and belief. Mayer never dwells into anything artificial or tired, something that his contemporaries too often partake in. Mayer approaches every topic with enough depth emotion to avoid this. His delivery has changed quite a bit, showing he can be way more emotive than before but if you didn't like his singing before, Continuum won't change a skeptics mind.
As far as the music goes, Continuum has some of Mayers most excellent songs he's written to date. Every song has it's own distinctiveness that makes it special, each comprised of its own character and hook to keep you coming back for repeated listens. No two songs carry any immediate comparisons, incorporating it's own style but never leaving the confines of Continiuums overall feel. While each song varies, Continuum is surprisingly persistent in it's mood even when the style change is from the superb acoustic "Stop This Train" to the slow blues of "Slow Dancing In A Burning Room". The transition always feels so natural and smooth. It really helps Continuum stand out, as it one of the few singer-songwriter albums that offer variety but remain consistent throughout.
Mayers guitar proficiency cannot go unnoticed on Continuum He usually plays very laid-back albeit complicated licks throughout the album, but each songs guitar solo never overstays it's welcome. He plays what adds to the songs overall quality and then drops out. Not to say that he doesn't rip it up at all. On the Hendrix cover "Bold As Love" Mayer proves that he can still rock out, but on "Gravity" he plays one of the most emotional but reserved solos I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Altogether Continuum is evidence that Mayer stands ahead of most singer-writers in the world offering much more depth to his music as well as showcasing profound musicianship. It has outstanding replay value and it shows an artist at a creative high. Continuum is neither revolutionary nor a first for the world, but it stands out as one of the best pop records released in the last decade.
Recommended songs - all of them, but especially...
Stop This Train
Bold As Love
Slow Dancing In A Burning Room