John Mayer is the best damn guitarist in mainstream music today.
Forget Dave Matthews, forget Ben Harper, forget all of those down to earth looking fellows that stand there looking cool with their acoustic guitars slung around their shoulders, singing and strumming their dry chords, hearts on sleeves and gentle smiles. If there’s that one song, the one that plays in your head as you stroll down your moonlit seaside on the after after-dinner date with that girl of your dreams, holding hands, with the glint of flirtatious laughter in the eyes of lovers, so often captured in the magic of cinema, it was John Mayer that wrote it. He captures too, the moment of being pushed in that open sea by that very girl, then coming out again, only to have a feeling of knowing that in the end, it’s gonna be… all good. It’s a feeling that so many, so very many have tried to achieve, and only so very few have ever actually pulled off – it’s finesse, subtlety and a breath of chillax all rolled into a single album.
It wasn’t always like this. Mayer’s first album, Room for Squares
, was a much rawer but more restrained gift to music. It was this ball of bumbling energy trapped in the smooth flowing, pretty boy aesthetic of Mayer, reaching out to see what exactly he would find. While it’s sights were never fixed, what it did find was a throve of screaming girls in love with the beauty of simple and sentimental music and guys trying to tell those girls what a boring voice he had and how much of a crap guitarist he was - until of course, they tried playing Neon
, and promptly shat themselves. The brilliant Squares
was followed up by the rather forgettable Heavier Things, which was about as heavy as Tom Delonge’s Angles and Airwaves
was ‘revolutionary’ (i.e. not at all). All throughout this period of course, were the comments here and there that Mayer was an ‘amazing blues guitarist, if only he would actually show it!’. So he did. In 2005 he released Try!
, a live blues album under the name the John Mayer Trio
, featuring the amazing musicians Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino. It was an hour of ripping blues and funky grooves, throwing away the cloak of the pop orientated, boring ‘ol Johnny boy. The aforementioned guys, still cleaning their pants, took a 180 and went about telling everyone how they just ‘knew he had it in him!’ and went away feeling even worse than they already did.
The aptly titled Continuum
is just as it sounds, an album back on track after a brush with the blues. Mayer announced before the last song of the last show of the trio that “…I’m John Mayer, and for a few more minutes, we are the John Mayer Trio”, setting the tone of what was to come – a return to the dusty drawing board of Squares
and Heavier Things
. Experience however, is not something that gives up on you so easily. Continuum
, while living up to its name, is an amalgamation of the older, laid back Mayer and the groovin’ blues shred of the Trio, and the result is nothing short of spectacular, bringing the best of both worlds into a beautiful album that many have been waiting him to finally produce. While to some, Mayer may have lost the charm he had on Squares
with such songs like No Such Thing
(Who can forget the lyrics “I wanna run though the halls of my high school, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs!”) and Your Body is a Wonderland
has got it’s own parallel grace that gives it it’s own favour, which as the final product demonstrates, is a good thing. Songs here no longer blend into each other, playing like one long track - each one clearly haven been written as a separate entity, fixing a problem that was a slight bother on his previous records.
The heavier blues influence in his work is obvious just by looking at the track listing itself. It contains two songs from Try!
(both of which were rerecorded for the album), as well as the Hendrix classic Bold As Love
, which not only fits perfectly on a record such as this, but is played true to it’s roots, not sacrificing any of the magic of the original. Mayer also writes of Gravity: “"I wrote 'Gravity' last summer, and it changed everything… for the first time, holding back - then it was a whole new game. That might be the most important song I ever wrote.” Not only that, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune too. What Mayer says about ‘holding back’ is reflected very well on the album too - there’s nothing pretentious about any of the songs, everything just seems to ‘fit’, right in place: the solos are tastefully done and don’t go on for any longer than they need to, and there’s an incredible interweaving of guitar playing and vocals, neither of which detract from the other. If anything, this is his most minimalist album yet, with songs like The Heart of Life
and Dreaming With a Broken Heart
being carried along by simple, but remarkably effective hooks. Lyrically, Mayer has always been one for simple and direct, demonstrated neatly in Slow Dancing In a Burning Room
I was the one you always dreamed of
you were the one I tried to draw
how dare you say it's nothin’ to me
baby, you're the only light I ever saw
It’s hardly Shakespeare, but quite frankly, it doesn’t matter – the chicks go wild for it. While most of the album is centered around broad themes like life and growing up, the first single from the album, Waiting on the World to Change
, is a call for social awareness, and also manages to showcase the soul and R&B influences that Mayer has dabbled in, earning him praise from artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z. Mayer’s broad range of songwriting is reflected in the folksy melody of The Heart of Life
. The first time I heard it, I could have sworn I had heard it before – not because it was generic, but rather, because it seemed like such a perfect song, which should have already been written by someone, somewhere. But no, it was a Mayer original. Two other standout tracks are the obligatory ‘missing-love’ songs, mentioned before – Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
and Dreaming with a Broken Heart
. The sort of tunes which you lie in bed, listening to as the rain beats outside the window – absolutely stellar. It’s not all gloom and doom though, with tracks like Belief
, I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You)
and Stop This Train
, providing the perfect counterweights to the breakup songs.
"I knew I had bought the time to learn everything I needed before I started this one... This is the first endeavor in my entire life, music or otherwise, that I did not cop out for a second on."
It’s true; this is, by the standards of everything else Mayer has done, his strongest album yet. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have its flaws however. Because of the individual nature of each of the songs, Continuum
has a lack of cohesion as a ‘record’, feeling more like bunch of really well written songs thrown in together because they all sounded awesome and would be cool to have on a single album. And then of course, there Mayer’s voice, which, while I find goes really well with the music, some people just can’t seem to stand, and I can see where they come from as well as some borderline boring tracks like In Repair
and I'm Gonna Find Another You
. Those points aside however, Continuum is one hellava pop record, from one hellava guitarist, continuing the pop-revival of last few years, bringing talent and beauty to a scene that was once dominated by synths and generic songwriting that looked set to destroy music forever. Keep Rockin' Mayer.