Aware/Columbia Records, 2006
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/2006
After schooling himself by playing sets with a series of blues masters and soaking up everything he could musically, Mayer re-emerged late last year with Try!, a completely unexpected and unexpectedly strong live album featuring him fronting a Cream-styled blues-rock trio with scene veterans Pino Palladino on bass and Steve Jordan on drums.
Well, that’s a pretty neat trick, the critics and listening public seemed to say, but c’mon. Are you serious?
Continuum answers that question with an exclamation point the size of the Mississippi Delta. Not only is Mayer serious, he’s graduated from the
The challenge to the music industry and music-buying public will be whether they can catch up with Mayer’s growth. Here’s the former teen idol mixing silky r & b grooves with sparkling blues jams, employing decades-old musical idioms to express deeply felt ideas about love, war and faith that are more perceptive and powerful than 99.9% of the lyrics you’ll find in your radio dial today.
Right out of the gate, Mayer tosses off the first song in years that actually feels like it captures the mood of a generation. “It’s not that we don’t care / We just know the fight ain’t fair,” goes a key line in the bittersweet “Waiting On The World To Change,” as its slinky, gorgeous groove digs in before finishing you off with bells right out of a Motown dream.
Sophomore track “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” sets up this disc’s main dichotomy, alternating tracks that have an outward focus with ones that zoom in on the messy interiors of our hearts. The groove Palladino and Jordan set here is, impossibly, even deeper, smoother and more irresistible than “Waiting.”
“Belief” is where Mayer hits one not just over the fence but clean out of the park. Returning to worldly concerns, Mayer takes on as charged a subject as you could imagine -- the dangers of religious fundamentalism – and crafts a musical statement that’s simultaneously deft and devastating. “Belief is a beautiful armor,” he sings, “But it makes for the heaviest sword,” as a tight, lilting electric guitar figure propels the song, one minute weaving in flashes of electric soul, the next delving into Far Eastern chord progressions and bluesy soloing. Not since What’s Going On has a song this meaningful met a groove this entrancing.
Traversing the middle three, “Gravity” is a spot-on, steady-building blues; “The Heart Of Life” is a Slowhand-style shuffle with a superb, affirming chorus; and “Vultures” is a velvet hammer on the tabloid media’s collective head. (You know an album’s good when three songs this well-crafted only rate a passing mention.)
“Stop This Train” ups the ante again as Mayer goes acoustic while delivering an emotional bulls-eye of a lyric about growing up and growing older. At the core again lies a simple truth: “I’m so scared of getting old / I’m only good at being young.” Right on its heels comes “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” a contender for break-up song of the decade – emotionally nuanced, masterfully paced, as true as the tears in a lover’s eyes. In short, brilliant.
Still, though, the ex-teen idol has all those commercial expectations on his shoulders, so… time to rein it in, right? Maybe bring it home with a couple of safe love ballads.
Not exactly. Three quarters of the way through this disc, Mayer has planted a small time bomb -- a truly bold cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love” that is as heartfelt as it is impressive. Somewhere, Stevie Ray Vaughan is smiling.
After that, the final trio of songs passes in a kind of delirious haze. “Dreaming With A Broken Heart” is a piano-driven blues ballad that would land among the top three on a weaker album; “In Repair” is an introspective blues with more sweet Claptonesque soloing and superb flourishes from Jordan behind the kit; and “I’m Gonna Find Another You” closes things out in style, a tight little “2:00 a.m. and my woman done left me” weeper with a knockout horn section and a sweetly witty lyrical kicker.
Continuum -- whose title cleverly implies more of a thread between his older and newer work than the change-averse among his longtime fans may find -- is album three in a trilogy of growth for John Mayer, and marks his official arrival as not just a major mover of product, but a major musical artist. Modern corporate radio may have trouble figuring out what to do with an album full of world-class blues from a former teen idol, but you shouldn’t.